AR   2019-01-18
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MiG-31K with hypersonic
Kinzhal missile

Me at work today

Fog in Westminster:
Continent cut off

Green party


Space elevator
Chase Design Studios


2019 January 18

Star Wars II

The Times

President Trump has announced the biggest push for US missile defense since Ronald Reagan's "star wars" plan with a pledge to test space-based weapons to defend America and attack its enemies. He announced 20 new ground-based interceptors in Alaska to detect and destroy incoming missiles.
Trump: "We are ordering the finest weapons in the world, that you can be sure of. Our goal is simple: to detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States anywhere, anytime, any place. The best way to keep America safe is to keep America strong."
President Putin has also unveiled new strategic weapons, including a hypersonic glide vehicle that can fly at Mach 20 and make sharp turns to avoid interception.

Europe Needs Britain

Norbert Röttgen

For decades the European Union has brought our peoples closer together. It has forged a European identity and lays the foundation for peace in Europe. Within this fruitful environment our nations have equally prospered.
A Brexit with no deal puts all these achievements at risk. Germans are deeply committed to a close relationship with the UK. We want you to stay. This sentiment is broadly shared in Germany.
After this week's parliamentary vote against the Brexit deal, there seems to be no majority in the House of Commons for any way forward. With only two options on the table, a hard Brexit or Remain, the British people may want to hold a second vote. If they need more time, I cannot imagine the EU will disagree.
Europe needs Britain, especially in these troubled times.

Sir, Without your great nation, this continent would not be what it is today: a community defined by freedom and prosperity. After the horrors of the second world war, Britain did not give up on us. We are grateful.
Should Britain wish to leave the European Union for good, it will always have friends in Germany and Europe. But Britons should equally know that we believe that no choice is irreversible. Our door will always remain open: Europe is home.
We would miss Britain. We would miss the British people, our friends across the Channel. We would miss Britain as part of the EU, especially in these troubled times. We want them to stay.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Norbert Röttgen, and 29 other leading figures in Germany

2019 January 17

The Malign Incompetence of the British Ruling Class

Pankaj Mishra

Britain made a calamitous exit from its Indian empire in 1947 when it left India partitioned. The British exit from the EU is proving to be another act of moral dereliction by British rulers.
In a grotesque irony, imperial borders imposed in 1921 on Ireland have proved to be the biggest stumbling block for the Brexiteers chasing imperial virility.
People in Ireland are aghast over the aggressive ignorance of English Brexiteers. Business people everywhere are outraged by their cavalier disregard for the economic consequences of Brexit.
The malign incompetence of the Brexiteers was precisely prefigured during the rushed British exit from India in 1947. Up to one million people died in the botched partition.
The mention of Winston Churchill stiffens the spines of many Brexiteers today. Churchill, a fanatical imperialist, worked harder than any British politician to thwart Indian independence.
The rolling calamity of Brexit threatens bloodshed in Ireland, secession in Scotland, and chaos in Dover. Ordinary British people stand to suffer from the exit wounds.

2019 January 16

Putin Smiles at US and UK

Stephen Collinson

The news just keeps on getting better for Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The United States and Britain, the two great English-speaking democracies that led Moscow's defeat in the Cold War, are undergoing political breakdowns.
In London, Theresa May suffered the worst defeat by a prime minister in modern UK parliamentary history.
The United States remains locked in its longest-ever government shutdown, thanks to the chaotic presidency of Donald Trump.
London and Washington are suffering the effects of populist revolts that erupted in 2016 and are now slamming into legislatures and breeding chaos.
The result is that Britain and the United States are all but ungovernable on important questions that confront both nations.
Putin has made disrupting liberal democracies a core aim of his rule, as he seeks to avenge the fall of the Soviet empire.

AR Victory Ringlord

EU Responds to UK Vote

The Times

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker: "I take note with regret of the outcome of the vote in the House of Commons this evening. The risk of a disorderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom has increased with this evening's vote. I urge the United Kingdom to clarify its intentions as soon as possible. Time is almost up."
European Council president Donald Tusk: "If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?"

"Die britische Politik ist nach wie vor nicht bereit, die Konsequenzen der Brexit-Entscheidung anzunehmen, und deshalb kann sie auch nicht wissen, was sie eigentlich von der EU will. Aus diesem Grund ist es auch wenig sinnvoll, von der restlichen EU zu verlangen, auf die Regierung in London zuzugehen."
Markus Becker 

Brexit Betrayal

Daniel Finkelstein

Brexiteers like the feeling that they have been betrayed by the political establishment. Well, a deal has been negotiated that would allow us to leave and you, the Brexiteers, defeated it.
It is we who have been betrayed. Those who faithfully and diligently tried to make Brexit happen smoothly and on time, even though we had our doubts, have been left high and dry.
The Brexiteer rebels are now saying Brexit could mean leaving without any trade deal, breaking the Good Friday agreement, failing to settle financially with our continental allies, and departing without a transition arrangement.
If they really believe the majority of voters support this burn-it-all-down Brexit, let's have another referendum and ask the electorate.

AR Withdraw Article 50 or delay its effect to give time for a vote.

2019 January 15

Brexit Deal Defeated

BBC News, 1939 UTC

The government is defeated on its proposed Brexit deal by a majority of 230.
The result of the vote is 202 in favour and 432 against.

Brexit: Think and Act Anew

Caroline Lucas

The crisis at the heart of UK democracy can no longer be ignored.
Russell Brand: "People saw a bright red button that said Fuck Off Establishment, and they pressed it."
The 2016 referendum result should tell us that people want hope. The Remain campaign was seen primarily as defending the status quo, with the political elite pulling the strings. The campaign utterly failed to inspire any kind of love for the EU as something worth defending.
The EU is the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity, and freedom in history. That astonishing achievement ought to be front and centre of the Brexit conversation. So too the social and environmental protections, and the remarkable gift of free movement, and the friendships across borders, the cultural opportunities, the life without fear, and the solidarity. To have reduced all that to an argument about the cost of a trolley load of shopping was a tragedy.
Decisions made in the EU affect us every day, so let's talk about EU politics. The EU must dismantle the habitual domination of corporate power over the will of citizens. Such reforms are long overdue, and we should advocate changing the EU at the same time as fighting to stay part of it.
Brexit laid bare the extent to which UK governance structures are derelict. The Palace of Westminster, Gothic, rat-infested, and crumbling into the Thames, has become a symbol of political decay. Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better rooted in the people.
We the people must lead the way.

Brexit: Anfang vom Ende Europas?

Klaus Raab

Gibt es ein zweites Brexit-Referendum? Ein Misstrauensvotum gegen May? Tatsächlich einen ungeregelten Brexit? Wie lange werden die Staus zwischen London und Dover? Fordert die AfD irgendwann ein Referendum über den Verbleib Deutschlands in der EU?
Londoner Politologe Anthony Glees: "Mein Land ist in tiefstem Chaos." Einen "Irrsinn" nannte er den Brexit und forderte zwar, die Entscheidung zu respektieren, befand aber: "Weil eine Mehrheit etwas wählt, bedeutet das nicht, dass es richtig war."
Europäischen Volkspartei Spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber beklagte, dass man sich ein wenig hängen gelassen fühle von Großbritannien, was die Vermittlung von Ideen zur künftigen Zusammenarbeit angehe.
Beatrix von Storch (AfD): Man selbst wolle ein Bündnis souveräner Nationalstaaten, in dem Entscheidungen nach einer Kosten-Nutzen-Kalkulation getroffen würden. Ein riesiges Chaos gebe es in Großbritannien nicht.

AR Beware of cost-benefit analysis: The costs of a political union cannot be quantified or its benefits predicted.

2019 January 14


The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May today spoke to workers at a factory in Stoke-on-Trent. She warned Brexiteers that staying in the EU is now more likely than their goal of leaving with no deal.
She said parliament has a duty to implement the result of the 2016 referendum:
"If a majority had backed remain, the UK would have continued as an EU member state. No doubt the disagreements would have continued too, but the vast majority of people would have had no truck with an argument that we should leave the EU in spite of a vote to remain or that we should return to the question in another referendum."

AR I begin to sense a retreat once St Theresa has endured her Commons crucifixion tomorrow.

A Space Elevator

Kelly Oakes

The future of space travel may be an elevator shaft that can transport people and equipment directly into low Earth orbit. A Japanese corporation aims to develop a space elevator by 2050, and China has its sights set on building one by 2045.
The sky lobby of a space elevator needs to orbit at the same speed as Earth rotates, with its center of mass some 36 Mm over our heads in geostationary orbit (GSO). A successful space elevator will need to stretch much further, with a tether nearly 100 Mm long, extending well beyond GSO, and strong enough to lift satellites and astronauts into space.
Keeping the base of such an enormous structure safe, engineers suggest placing the Earth end of the tether near the equator, where hurricanes almost never form. To avoid collisions with space junk, it should ideally be anchored on a mobile ocean platform.
Researchers in Japan have sent a miniature space elevator to the International Space Station for release into orbit. Two 10 cm satellites tied together by an 11 m steel cable are passing a tiny climber back and forth while researchers monitor the system.
To install a full-size cable, put a satellite in orbit, carrying many Mm of wire, and have it dangle the wire down to Earth. Send a small mechanical climber up that wire carrying a second ribbon. Repeat this process with ever bigger climbers, adding more and more ribbons, to weave a sturdy cable leading from the ground to the orbiting cluster of climbers acting as a counterweight to keep the elevator's center of mass up in GSO.
Because all the mass below GSO pulls down on the elevator shaft, and all that above pulls it up, the tether will be in great tension. To hold it all together, we need a strong material. The top candidates are carbon nanotubes and graphene sheets.
International Space Elevator Consortium president Peter Swan: "When you can provide scalable, inexpensive and reliable access to space, capabilities emerge that will benefit those on Earth."

AR I guess this will take longer than its enthusiasts expect.


Elon Musk / SpaceX
Elon Musk reveals assembled Starship hopper prototype for suborbital VTOL tests


Universe Today
Starshot light sail

"I'm not saying I'm a Trump fan,
I'm just saying, it's bad in
America, but it's a thousand
times worse in Britain."
Jeremy Clarkson

Me Me Me
British army fights
to attract recruits

Jade Rabbit 2

Quantum error correction
for beginners

M.C. Escher
M.C. Escher
Fish in a tiling illustrate
hyperbolic geometry


EU vs Russia
Norbert Röttgen

Putin has made destabilization
of other countries the guiding
principle of his foreign policy


2019 January 13

Brexit: Case For People's Vote

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard

As the Brexit clock ticks on, the case for a people's vote grows stronger:
 A clear majority of MPs opposes the government's proposed withdrawal deal. The government
     is now braced for a heavy defeat on Tuesday evening.
 Crashing out in March with nothing agreed is not the only option if the Commons votes down
     the deal. MPs can block a no-deal Brexit.
 Parliament can take back control. The government will have to bring forward a new plan
     within three days. A people's vote amendment can be tabled.
 The ECJ confirms that the UK has the absolute right to stop the Article 50 process, withdraw
     its notice, and remain in the EU.
UK polls now show a consistent 8% lead in favour of staying in the EU. The lead is 16 to 26 points
for a choice between staying and either the government's deal or no deal.

Stop and Think
Sir John Major

Crashing out of the EU without a deal would be deeply harmful for the UK. Every single household would be worse off for many years to come. The only sensible course now is for the government to revoke article 50 and suspend any decision on departure.

2019 January 12

Trump Endgame

Alan J. Steinberg

Trump will not be removed from office by the constitutional impeachment process. Instead, he will use his presidency as a bargaining chip with federal and state authorities in 2019, agreeing to leave office in exchange for their not pursuing criminal charges against him.
Aside from all the legal nightmares facing Trump and his presidency, it appears virtually impossible for Trump to be reelected in 2020. The economy appears headed for a severe recession, as evidenced by the recent plunge in the stock market.
With his approval ratings in an abysmal state, and the forthcoming recession making it near impossible for Trump to stage a political recovery, it appears most likely that he will use the continuation of his presidency as a bargaining chip.

Brexit Endgame


Two of the biggest donors to the Brexit campaign say they now expect the UK to stay in the EU despite their campaign victory in the 2016 referendum.
Hedge fund manager Crispin Odey does not believe there will be a second referendum or that Brexit will happen either. He is now positioning for the pound to strengthen from $1.27 to about $1.34.
Billionaire Peter Hargreaves says the political establishment is determined to scuttle Brexit, first by asking the EU for an extension to the exit process and then by calling for a second referendum.

Beauty Shapes Evolution

Ferris Jabr

Numerous species have conspicuous, costly, and burdensome sexual ornaments. To reconcile such splendid beauty with a utilitarian view of evolution, biologists have favored the idea that beauty in the animal kingdom is an indicator of health, intelligence, and survival skills.
Charles Darwin proposed that ornaments evolved through sexual selection. Females choose the most appealing males according to their standard of beauty. In this way, beauty can be the glorious flowering of arbitrary preference, nothing to do with survival.
Two environments govern the evolution of sentient creatures: an external one, which they inhabit, and an internal one, which they construct. To understand evolution, we must uncover the hidden links between those two worlds.
Richard Prum says animals are agents in their own evolution. Dinosaurs originally evolved feathers, he says, because they found them beautiful. Birds transformed them into enviable adaptations, but they never abandoned their sense of style.
Environment constrains anatomy, which determines how a creature experiences the world, which generates adaptive and arbitrary preferences, which loop back to alter its biology, sometimes in maladaptive ways. In humans, many types of physical beauty and sexual desire have arbitrarily co-evolved without reference to health or fertility.
Flowers expose the futility of trying to contain beauty in a single theoretical framework. Early pollen-producing plants depended on the wind to spread their pollen and reproduce. But certain insects began to eat those pollen grains, inadvertently transporting them from one plant to another. Through a long process of co-evolution, plants and pollinators formed increasingly specific relationships, driving each other toward aesthetic and adaptive extremes.
Beauty evolves in a dialogue between perceiver and perceived.

AR Beauty is epiphenomenal to evolution by natural selection rather as consciousness is epiphenomenal to cognitive processing in a cerebral neuronet.

2019 January 11

Brexit: World Is Watching

Shinzo Abe

The world is watching the UK as it exits the EU.
Japan and the UK have been building a very strong partnership. For Japan, the UK is the gateway to the European market. It is the strong will of Japan to further develop this strong partnership.
We hope a no-deal Brexit will be avoided.

Brexit: Delay Withdrawal

James Blitz

When Theresa May puts her Brexit deal to the Commons next Tuesday she will face a major defeat. She must then return to the Commons within three days with a proposed Plan B. MPs can amend her new motion and debate alternative Brexit plans.
Eurasia Group managing director Mujtaba Rahman: "A three-month extension to Article 50 would now make sense."

Black Hole Stability Conjecture Solved

Daily Mail

Imperial College London physicist Gustav Holzegel has won the prestigious Blavatnik Award and a cash prize for calculating what happens when a black hole is perturbed. Solutions to the black hole stability conjecture had eluded physicists for decades.
From his award citation: "Professor Holzegel has pushed the frontiers of our understanding of the universe as outlined by the general relativity theory."
Holzegel proves that a perturbed black hole will settle down into a stable form. He proved a version of the conjecture for spherical black holes in 2016. His new work applies to any kind of black hole.

How Machines Think

Been Kim

Interpretability can mean studying a neural network with scientific experiments to understand the details about the model, how it reacts, and that sort of thing.
Interpretability for responsible AI means understanding just enough to safely use the tool. We can create that understanding by confirming that useful human knowledge is reflected in the tool.
Doctors using a machine-learning model for diagnosis will want to know that their own diagnostic knowledge is reflected in the model. A machine-learning model that pays attention to these factors is more understandable, because it reflects the knowledge of the doctors.
Prior to this, interpretability methods only explained what neural networks were doing in terms of input features. If you have an image, every single pixel is an input feature. But humans communicate with concepts.
Testing with Concept Activation Vectors (TCAV) does sensitivity testing. When you add a new diagnostic concept, you can output the probability of a certain prediction as a number between 0 and 1, its TCAV score. If the probability increases, it is an important concept to the model.
To validate the concept, a statistical testing procedure rejects the concept vector if it has the same effect on the model as a random vector. If your concept fails this test, the TCAV will tell you the concept looks unimportant to the model.
Humans are gullible. It is easy to fool a person into trusting something. The goal of interpretability for machine learning is to resist this, to tell you if a system is not safe to use.
Inherently interpretable models reflect how humans reason. Having humans in the loop, and enabling the conversation between machines and humans, is the crux of interpretability.

2019 January 10

Extraterrestrial Visitors

Avi Loeb

In October 2017, the PanSTARRS telescope in Hawaii detected an object moving so fast it must have come from beyond our solar system, making it the first visitor from outer space that we know of. We called it Oumuamua.
It was quite a mystery. Its brightness changes dramatically, suggesting a very strange shape. A sphere would always reflect the same amount of sunlight. Only a disk or a cigar-shaped body would flicker while rotating.
The more we found out about Oumuamua, the weirder it got. Its orbit differs significantly from an orbit shaped by solar gravitation. Some additional force was acting on it. If it was a comet, it might have emitted gases while flying past the Sun, but no comet tail was observed. And its rotation should have changed during outgassing, but this effect was not observed either.
The other force acting on Oumuamua is the pressure of the sunlight. Solar radiation could only have a visible effect if it is a very thin object, less than 1 mm thick. If Oumuamua is a randomly wandering object, every solar system would have to produce millions of billions of such objects. If it's not random, it could be a targeted mission, an artificial product, a light sail made by intelligent beings.
The Breakthrough Starshot project started when Yuri Milner asked me in 2015 if I would be willing to lead a project to send a probe to Proxima Centauri, 4 light years away from Earth. To get there within our lifetime, it would have to travel at 0.2c.
A light sail, accelerated by a powerful laser from Earth, seemed to be the only feasible way. The idea is to accelerate the probe with a 100 GW laser beam for a few minutes. With many small infrared lasers across an area of 100 ha, we could focus the beam up to about five times the distance to the Moon and accelerate the probe to 0.2c.
We plan a payload of about 1 g. The probe needs a camera and a navigation and communication device. And we need a sail material that almost completely reflects the incoming laser light. To receive the radio signal the probe sends back, we will need a big radio telescope on Earth. We can send a lot of probes into space once the launch system is constructed, because the expensive part is the infrastructure of the laser beam. The probes themselves will be relatively cheap.
Oumuamua is moving too fast for a rocket, but with a laser-driven light sail we could catch up with it. We only became aware of it after it had already left, but we will study the next visitor earlier and more thoroughly.

Crystal Balls


White dwarfs are stellar embers depleted of nuclear energy sources that cool over billions of years. These stars are supported by electron degeneracy pressure and reach core densities of 10 Gg/l.
A phase transition occurs during white dwarf cooling, leading to the crystalization of the non-degenerate C and O ions in the core. This releases latent heat and delays the cooling process by about a billion years. The cooling is further slowed by the liberation of gravitational energy from element sedimentation in the core.

"All white dwarfs will crystalize at some point in their evolution, although more massive white dwarfs go through the process sooner. This means that billions of white dwarfs in our galaxy have already completed the process and are essentially crystal spheres in the sky."
Pier-Emmanuel Tremblay

2019 January 9

Trump: US Governance Crisis

The New York Times

President Trump is painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill suited to the work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances.
Most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.

Brexit: UK Government Failure

The Guardian

Brexit is not a policy prescription for UK problems. For many Tories, it is an attitude of mind, an amorphous resentment against the modern world.
There has been a collective floundering across the political spectrum. Britain is living through a period of national democratic failure. Badly framed referendums are a crude way of making democratic decisions and empower those who shout loudest.
Brexit has exposed the decrepit nature of UK constitutional arrangements and UK politics. Parliamentary sovereignty needs to be better rooted in the people. Other forms of debate are essential buttresses of the parliamentary process.
Britain should pause the article 50 process and put Brexit on hold. The government has failed, so we must go back to the people.

Brexit: Plan B in 3 Days

BBC News, 1436 UTC

MPs have voted to force the government to return to parliament with a plan B within three days if the withdrawal deal is rejected next week, by 308 votes to 297.

Brexit: End of Days Scenario

Daily Mail

Government calls a general election for April 4, parliament goes into recess, cutting off further debate or votes, and no-deal Brexit happens on March 29 while politicians are out campaigning.

AR The fixed-term parliaments act ensures that this can only happen after the house passes a vote of no confidence in the government, which is already an extreme scenario.

2019 January 8

Brexit: No No Deal

BBC News, 1921 UTC

MPs have backed an amendment to the Finance Bill that limits spending on no-deal Brexit preparations unless authorised by parliament, by 303 to 296 votes.

AR Relief — I trust this means no-deal Brexit is off the menu.

Brexit: The Uncivil War

The Times

James Graham's TV drama was rollickingly good entertainment, but it wasn't really the story of the Leave and Remain campaigns. It was the story of Dominic Cummings, brilliantly done by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cummings was shown running rings intellectually around MPs and old-guard Brexiteers, basically delivering the Leave victory through vision and data mining, putting that £350 million for the NHS claim on the side of the bus, and devising the "Take Back Control" slogan.
Credit must go to Graham for making something about Brexit enjoyable. A final verdict from Cummings resonated: "It's all gone crap."

AR The drama did well to catch the way Cummings raised demons with the immigration issue to demolish a weak and complacent Remain campaign.

2019 January 7

Europe of Nations


Right-wing populists seek a Europe of Nations. In May 2019, they could gain enough seats in the European Parliament to turn back the clock on European integration.
Italian Lega party member and interior minister Matteo Salvini: "There are people who have betrayed the European dream. But we will give our blood and veins for a new Europe."
In Austria, FPÖ member and vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache cultivates relations with fellow populists across Europe: "We can save Europe."
Russian president Vladimir Putin's United Russia party has a cooperation agreement with the FPÖ and with right-wing parties in neighboring countries, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán's Fidesz party.
There are two right-wing populist groups in the European Parliament, the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) and the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF), plus the more moderate groups European People's Party (EPP) and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR).
Salvini wants to see refugees distributed more fairly across Europe. But the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party is adamantly opposed, as is Orbán in Hungary. The European right wing is also divided on relations with Russia.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) includes members who question the legitimacy of the German-Polish border. German parliament AfD co-leader Alice Weidel is critical of Italy: "Germany cannot become Italy's paymaster!"
Orbán stigmatizes refugees in alarmist terms. His government built a razor-wire border fence and demanded that the EU pay for it. He is fond of posing as the savior of the Christian West. His Fidesz party belongs to the EPP group in the European Parliament.
Hungary depends on EU subsidies adding up to €40 billion by the end of 2017. The same is true of Poland, led by the PiS party. Yet Poland and Hungary cause trouble in Brussels.
European nationalists say they are the people and will drive out the elites. From May, the ECR will lose British MEPs with Brexit, giving PiS a leading role in the group.
Lega, FPÖ, AfD, and Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National could join the ENF group. Together they could make up over 20% of the European Parliament.

AR Without the calming presence of the UK, the EU could turn ugly.


The Times

The Brexit psychodrama goes on. It is difficult for outsiders to believe that the UK has put itself in this absurd and reckless position. Ireland must respond, because Brexit will affect it more severely than any other EU member.
Brexiteers have consistently failed to acknowledge that the UK departure from the EU will have negative consequences for other countries. Their ignorance of Irish history and of the special sensitivities of the border ought to shame them.
Jacob Rees-Mogg even had the effrontery last week to blame the Irish government for the bind in which the UK finds itself. The proper response is to reiterate why the backstop is an essential part of any withdrawal agreement.
Almost everybody on the island of Ireland, except the DUP and a cohort of other unionists, wishes the UK to remain in the EU.

AR Most other interested parties do too.

2019 January 6

China, Space Superpower

The Times

China is making a tremendous effort to become a space power.
Heritage Foundation China expert Dean Cheng: "In some ways the US has fallen behind China. You cannot be more glaring in your deficiency than having lost the ability to put a person into space. China is able to do this. Currently the US is not."
Space expert Namrata Goswami: "There has been a tendency to underplay Chinese achievements in space .. But they have shown that they are capable of doing very difficult feats away from Earth. That should be a wake-up call."
Goswami believes the Chinese have three long-term civilian goals in space:
 To establish a permanent presence on the Moon
 To use that presence as a base for deeper space exploration
 To focus on asteroids as a possible source of raw materials
Cheng: "Where China is ahead is thinking about the military roles of space .. This week's achievement is the product of at least a decade of sustained funding and sustained programmatic stability."

British Imperial Nostalgia

Ishaan Tharoor

Imperial nostalgia shadows the push for Brexit. Brexiteers conjure visions of Britain restored to its former glory once free of the EU. Empire 2.0 will arise from new trade deals with Commonwealth countries.
The Sunday Times: "A people who within living memory governed a quarter of the world's land area and a fifth of its population is surely capable of governing itself without Brussels."
UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt: "Britain's post-Brexit role should be to act as an invisible chain linking together the democracies of the world, those countries which share our values and support our belief in free trade, the rule of law and open societies."
UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson: "This is our biggest moment as a nation since the end of the second world war, when we can recast ourselves in a different way. We can actually play the role on the world stage that the world expects us to play."
An anonymous Tory grandee: "We simply cannot allow the Irish to treat us like this. The Irish really should know their place."

A Good British Spanking
Nick Cohen

Margaret Thatcher cut government spending and whacked up interest rates during a recession. She defied the experts, who warned that her policies would deepen the recession, erode the UK industrial base, and threaten social and political stability.
Brexiteers tell voters a good spanking is worth it to restore national independence from Europe. Britain was never invaded by Hitler or Stalin, so they are careless about the risk of leaving the EU.

Solar Thermal Fuel


Researchers have developed a fluid that absorbs solar energy, holds it for months or years, and then releases it when needed. Such a solar thermal fuel can help replace fossil fuels.
As a pump cycles the fluid through transparent tubes, solar UV light excites its molecules into an energized state. The photons rearrange bonds among the C, H, and N atoms to convert norbornadiene into quadricyclane. Because the energy is trapped in strong chemical bonds, it is retained even when the fluid cools down.
To extract the stored energy, the activated fluid is passed over a cobalt-based catalyst. The quadricyclane molecules then transform back into norbornadiene. This heats the fluid from room temperature up to about 80 C.
The fluid and the catalyst are not consumed by the reactions, so the system can run in a closed loop. The researchers have run it though 125 cycles without significant degradation.
Calculations show the fluid can store up to 900 kJ/kg, about 2% as much as gasoline. The next step is to optimize its shelf life, energy density, and recyclability.

AR Thanks to Christian de Quincey for this.

2019 January 5

Quantum Spacetime

Natalie Wolchover

Qubits are superpositions of two states, |0⟩ and |1⟩. When qubits interact, their possible states become interdependent. The contingent possibilities proliferate exponentially as many qubits become more and more entangled in a quantum computation.
Physical qubits are error-prone. The tiniest disturbance causes them to undergo bit-flips that switch their chances of being |0⟩ and |1⟩ relative to the other qubits, or phase-flips that invert the relationship between their two states. For quantum computers to work, we need to protect the logic even when physical qubits get corrupted.
Quantum error-correcting codes exist, and they can theoretically push error rates close to zero. The best error-correcting codes can typically recover all of the encoded information from slightly more than half of the physical qubits.
There is evidence of a deep connection between quantum error correction and the nature of spacetime and gravity. We think spacetime and gravity somehow emerge from a quantum origin. This emergence works like a quantum error-correcting code, at least in anti-de Sitter (AdS) universes.
We live in a de Sitter universe with positive vacuum energy, but AdS space has negative vacuum energy, giving it a hyperbolic geometry. Spatial dimensions radiating away from a center gradually shrink down to the universe's outer boundary.
The interior of a 4D AdS spacetime is holographically dual to a quantum field theory on the 3D gravity-free boundary. Any point in the interior of AdS space could be constructed from slightly more than half of the boundary, just as in an optimal quantum error-correcting code. Such a code can be understood as a 2D hologram.
In 2015, Daniel Harlow, John Preskill, Fernando Pastawski, and Beni Yoshida (HaPPY) found another holographic code that captures more properties of AdS space. The code tiles space in 5-sided blocks, each one representing a single spacetime point. Think of the tiles as the fish in an Escher tiling.
In the HaPPY code and other holographic error-correcting schemes, everything in a region of the interior spacetime called the entanglement wedge can be reconstructed from qubits on an adjacent region of the boundary. Overlapping regions on the boundary have overlapping entanglement wedges, just as a logical qubit can be reconstructed from many different subsets of physical qubits.
Preskill: "It's really entanglement which is holding the space together. If you want to weave spacetime together out of little pieces, you have to entangle them in the right way. And the right way is to build a quantum error-correcting code."

Entanglement Weaves Spacetime
Jennifer Ouellette

Spacetime emerges from entangled nodes in a network. Entanglement is the thread that weaves the fabric of spacetime. Curved spacetime emerges naturally from entanglement in tensor networks via holography. Think of 2D program code for a virtual 3D game world. We live in the game space.

2019 January 4

Russia Chose Trump For Prez


Russia chose Donald Trump as the US presidential candidate who would be most advantageous to Moscow, and used online tactics to win him the presidency.
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo: "Officials in Moscow looked at the 2016 US presidential race and asked, 'Which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House? Who will help us achieve our goals?' And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president .. What we've seen so far with respect to bots and the distortion of information is just the tip of the iceberg. It is the greatest threat of recent years, and it threatens the basic values that we share."

The US Senate commissioned a report finding that Russia had used every social media tool available to influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump. One described the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm:
"Run like a sophisticated marketing agency in a centralized office environment, the IRA employed and trained over a thousand people to engage in round-the-clock influence operations, first targeting Ukrainian and Russian citizens, and then, well before the 2016 US election, Americans .. They reached 126 million people on Facebook, at least 20 million users on Instagram, 1.4 million users on Twitter, and uploaded over a thousand videos to YouTube."

AR I discuss the Russian role in my essay Victory.

Brexiteers Lied

Chris Patten

As 29 March 2019 gets closer, no deal is in sight that is acceptable to both Westminster and Brussels. The problem began before the 2016 referendum. The Leave campaign was rife with delusions and dishonesty.
UK prime minister Theresa May laid down red lines:
The UK will leave the EU and the single market and the customs union.
The UK will not accept any jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice.
The UK will end the freedom of European citizens to come to the UK.
The UK will not accept a hard border between Northern Ireland and Eire.
It is well-nigh impossible to negotiate an exit deal that meets them.
The Brexiteers lied. The costs of leaving the EU outweigh the benefits.

AR Putin nudged the UK toward Brexit with his support for Leave.

Britain Needs A Plan

Jochen Bittner

UK prime minister Theresa May is likely to fail with her proposed withdrawal agreement. As things stand, at 11:00:00 pm on 29 March 2019 the UK will be a part of the EU and at 11:00:01 it won't.
With no deal, trade relations between the UK and the EU revert to basic WTO rules. Neither side can treat the other more favorably than they treat other trade partners around the globe. A new customs regime would have to be installed. In the interim, confusion.
If May's agreement is voted down, parliament has to deal with the Brexit mess. Only Brextremists want a hard Brexit. MPs can vote to give the decision back to the people with a new referendum.

AR I explore the strategic cost of hard Brexit in my story Ringlord.

Turing Model Builds Patterns


In 1952, Alan Turing devised an elegant mathematical model of pattern formation. His theory outlined how endless varieties of stripes, spots, and scales could emerge from the interaction of two chemical agents, or morphogens. The mechanism lies behind the development of mammalian hair, the feathers of birds, and even the denticles that cover the skin of sharks.
Turing's reaction-diffusion mechanism requires two interacting agents, an activator and an inhibitor, that diffuse through tissue. The activator initiates a process and promotes its own production. The inhibitor halts both actions. The inhibitor spreads through tissue more quickly and prevents pockets of activation from spilling over. The pockets of activation can appear as patterns of dots or stripes.
A mathematical model of activator and inhibitor interactions can produce patterns that match those of developing shark skin, feathers, or hair. Reducing or blocking the expression of a gene and showing that the pattern disappears reveals which genes play roles in pattern production. Once such a pattern is set, other mechanisms form denticles, feathers, or other epithelial appendages.

AR Mathematics lets us explain the evolution of biological diversity.

Far side of Moon

Chang'e 4 lunar surface image, far side of Moon

Ultima Thule
New Horizons image of
Ultima Thule, a world
33 km long over
6 Tm away



2019 January 3

The Far Side of the Moon


China has successfully landed a rover on the far side of the Moon — a big first for its space program.
China National Space Administration (CNSA) landed the Chang'e 4 lunar probe at 0226 UTC today, in the South Pole−Aitken Basin. The rover made our first close-up image of the far side of the Moon.
This success is a landmark in human space exploration. Since the Chang'e 4 rover cannot communicate directly with ground control, China earlier launched a dedicated satellite orbiting the Moon to relay data from the rover to Earth.
The Chang'e 4 rover is 1.5 m long and about 1 m wide and tall, with two foldable solar panels and six wheels. It will conduct a number of tasks, including conducting a low-frequency radio astronomy experiment, observe whether plants will grow in the low-gravity environment, look for water or other resources, and study the interaction between solar winds and the lunar surface.
CNSA Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center deputy director Tongjie Liu:
"Since the far side of the Moon is shielded from electromagnetic interference from the Earth, it is an ideal place to research the space environment and solar bursts, and the probe can listen to the deeper reaches of the cosmos."
US Naval War College professor Joan Johnson-Freese:
"It is highly likely that with the success of Chang'e and the concurrent success of the human spaceflight Shenzhou program, the two programs will eventually be combined toward a Chinese human spaceflight program to the Moon."
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine:
"This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!"

2019 January 2

Jovian Moon Io

Daily Mail

On 2018-12-21, NASA probe Juno cameras captured images of Jupiter's moon Io. When Juno was about 300 Mm from Io, JunoCam acquired three images of Io, all showing a volcanic plume near the terminator. JunoCam, the Stellar Reference Unit (SRU), the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), and the Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVS) observed Io for over an hour.
Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton: "We knew we were breaking new ground with a multi-spectral campaign to view Io's polar region, but no one expected we would get so lucky as to see an active volcanic plume shooting material off the moon's surface."


Financial Times

The decision in 2016 to renew the UK nuclear deterrent and build four new submarines at a cost of £31 billion could sink the UK defence budget. The total 2017/18 defence budget was £37 billion.
A funding gap of up to £15 billion in the MoD equipment program looms over the next decade. The gap stems mainly from Dreadnought, the nuclear deterrent submarine renewal program, described as "the ultimate guarantee" of UK security.
The cost of the nuclear deterrent includes maintaining the present fleet of V-boats, the Trident missile system, the British nuclear warheads, and building four new Dreadnought submarines. All this makes up a big fraction of the MoD budget.
BAE Systems is building the new submarines, which will be 153 m long and displace 17 200 tons. They will be powered by a new Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor, posing a big risk to the project, and will each have 12 Trident missile tubes.
Jane's Fighting Ships consultant editor Richard Scott: "You hear comments about the disproportionate impact the deterrent has on the overall defence budget."

AR Form a commission to review the strategic purpose of UK nuclear weapons.

2019 New Year's Day

Childhood's End

George Dyson

The digital revolution began when stored-program computers broke the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. As computers proliferated, the humans providing instructions could no longer keep up.
The digital revolution has come full circle and the analog revolution has begun. To those seeking autonomy and control among machines, the domain of analog computing is the place to look. The next revolution is the assembly of digital components into analog computers.
Nature uses digital coding for processing sequences of nucleotides, but relies on analog coding and analog computing for intelligence and control. In analog computing, complexity resides in topology, not code. Analog computers embrace noise.
Analog computation can be implemented in solid state. Algorithms and digital simulations loom large in our culture but other forms of computation effectively control much of the world.
The search engine is no longer a model of human knowledge, it is human knowledge. What began as a mapping of human meaning now defines human meaning, and has begun to control, rather than simply catalog or index, human thought.
The successful social network is no longer a model of the social graph, it is the social graph. These new hybrid organizations are operating as analog computers on a global scale.

AR This is the global brain: Globorg

2018 Was Putin's Year


President Vladimir Putin of Russia had a good 2018.
In March, Putin sailed to a re-election victory, winning a fourth term by a handsome margin. The Kremlin even secured high turnout numbers to claim a broad mandate.
In June and July, Russia hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup, a resounding triumph for Putin. More than 3 million fans attended matches in 12 stadiums across Russia. FIFA praised the Russia tournament as the best World Cup to date.
The games allowed Russia to show its side after years of political isolation and confrontation with the West following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the imposition of economic sanctions.
Russia is still locked in a confrontation with the United States and the West. Its economy lost years of growth in the wake of the 2014 annexation of Crimea. New sanctions could further cripple the economy.
In September, Putin said the two suspects named by UK authorities over the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury were not criminals and suggested the pair come forward. They did, and an investigative website revealed their real identities.
The World Cup provided a welcome respite to bad headlines. Visitors saw a country that could roll out the red carpet.
Putin: "Millions of people have changed their views on Russia. It is a big achievement."

AR Victory 

Imaging a Black Hole

New Scientist

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) has made its first observations of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy. Nine radio observatories around the world, including four in America and one in Antarctica, make up the EHT. Together they make a virtual telescope spanning the planet.
In April 2017, the EHT looked at two supermassive black holes: Sagittarius A* at the center of the Milky Way and the much more massive black hole at the center of galaxy M87. The images will be the first proof that black hole event horizons exist.
The observations could also help us formulate a theory of quantum gravity.

AR This could be good.

BLOG 2018
Earthmind Explosion


Mit uns

People's Vote


2018 New Year's Eve


Angela Merkel

Da ist die Schicksalsfrage des Klimawandels, die der Steuerung und Ordnung der Migration, da ist der Kampf gegen den internationalen Terrorismus. In unserem eigenen Interesse wollen wir alle diese Fragen lösen, und das können wir am besten, wenn wir die Interessen anderer mitbedenken.
Deutschland wird ab morgen für zwei Jahre Mitglied im UN-Sicherheitsrat sein und sich dort für globale Lösungen einsetzen. Wir steigern unsere Mittel für humanitäre Hilfe und Entwicklungshilfe, aber auch unsere Verteidigungsausgaben weiter.
Um Arbeitsplätze, Wohlstand und unsere Lebensgrundlagen zu sichern, geht die Bundesregierung konsequent die nächsten Schritte beim Strukturwandel von traditionellen zu neuen Technologien und setzt ihre Strategie für den digitalen Fortschritt um.
Wir müssen im eigenen Interesse mehr Verantwortung übernehmen. Und mit Großbritannien wollen wir trotz des Austritts aus der Europäischen Union weiter eine enge Partnerschaft bewahren.
Immer häufiger aber auch um den Stil unseres Miteinanders, um unsere Werte: Offenheit, Toleranz und Respekt. Diese Werte haben unser Land stark gemacht.

AR Perfekt formuliert, kann ich nur zustimmen.


2018 December 30

New Year Greetings

Vladimir Putin

Greetings to President of the People's Republic of China Xi Jinping. Relations of comprehensive
     trust-based partnership and strategic interaction between the Russian Federation and the
     People's Republic of China have reached an unprecedented level.
 Greetings to President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron. Russian-French relations have
     great potential, which was confirmed by our recent meetings and talks.
 To Federal President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor of Germany
     Angela Merkel, I note the significant experience of cooperation between our two countries in
     various spheres and hope for continued joint work on the bilateral and international agendas
     next year.
 Greetings to President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella and Chairman of the Council of
     Ministers of the Italian Republic Giuseppe Conte.
 Heartfelt wishes of happiness, prosperity and success to King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of
     Spain, other members of the royal family and all Spanish people.
 Greetings to President of the Turkish Republic Recep Tayyip Erdogan. I am pleased with the
     auspicious development of Russia-Turkey relations.
 Greetings to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
     and Prime Minister Theresa May. I wish them and their family members good health, happiness
     and every success, and the British people well-being and prosperity.
 Greetings to President of the United States of America Donald Trump. Russia-US relations are
     the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security. Russia
     is open to dialogue with the United States on the most extensive agenda.

AR No greetings for Germany?

Putin: My Take

Raffaello Pantucci

President Vladimir Putin is flexing Russian military might with a new hypersonic missile.
We remain far from the Cold War. The United States is nowhere near the roughly 10% of GDP it was devoting to defense at the height of that confrontation. Moscow is far from the expenditure that brought the Soviet Union crashing down and is also a long way short of US defense spending.
We now inhabit countries that are economically interdependent. Moscow oligarchs own property in London, while Chinese national wealth is tied up in American Treasury bonds. We live in a world that can at best be described as divided by forms of governance, rather than by ideology.
Moscow sees the current confusion as a prime environment in which to assert its influence abroad and build a narrative at home of international power and importance. Moscow regards the West as an adversary to worry about. The threat is to the leadership rather than national ideology.
On both sides there is a surprising lack of insight into what the other is thinking.

AR Ringlord

UK: My Task

Jeremy Hunt

Singapore is rich. About 200 years ago a British adventurer founded it. Our connection persists.
The UK may no longer be a superpower but we are still very much a global power. We have some of the best global connections. British personal links combine with centuries of trade routes, military campaigns, and missionary work to make us one of the best-connected countries on the planet.
Those of us who wish to for an orderly departure of the UK from the EU have a simple task.

AR Ringlord

2018 December 29

Trump: Impeachment

Elizabeth Drew

President Trump's political status is now hurtling downhill. Unless he resigns, public pressure on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process in 2019 will only increase.
The founders put the decision about whether a president should be allowed to continue to serve in the hands of the representatives of the people who elected him. But they wrote into the Constitution provisions to make it extremely difficult for Congress to remove a president from office.
Trump will be looking for a way out, but he will want future legal protection. Politicians in both parties may want to make a deal to get him out.

Brexit: Second Referendum

Dominic Grieve

The prime minister has delivered a plan for Brexit that she feels is the best the UK can achieve, given her red lines. Any rational examination exposes the deal's flaws when compared with either the reality of the status quo or how far short it falls of the Leave campaign promises in 2016.
A course of action is available to us that lets us check whether or not the will of the people has changed over time. To call this a subversion of democracy is utterly wrong. No one will thank us for dragging the UK out of the EU on a deal for which the public have shown no enthusiasm.

2018: A Bad Year

Financial Times

2018 is on track to be the worst year for the global equity markets since 2008. The FTSE All-World
index is down 11.8% since the start of the year.

AR Blame Trump and Brexit.



Standard Model
The Standard Model
Higgs in the middle


2018 December 28


The story of how President Putin builds on Brexit to rule the world
Andy Ross

President Vladimir Putin of Russia was ambitious to restore the fortunes of the Russian people. As a former intelligence officer in the Soviet Union, he had watched the collapse of the USSR with dismay and vowed to devote all his energies to restoring the dignity and pride of his people. His chance came when as president he met weakness and discord in the West.
His primary target was America and his secondary target was Britain ..

2018 December 27

The Age of Brilliant Machines

Steven Strogatz

AlphaZero is a machine-learning algorithm that has mastered chess, shogi, and Go. The algorithm started with no knowledge of the games beyond their basic rules. It then played against itself millions of times and learned from its mistakes. In a matter of hours, the algorithm became the best player, human or computer, the world has ever seen.
AlphaZero clearly displays a breed of intellect that humans have not seen before, and that we will be mulling over for a long time to come. Not only could it have easily defeated all the strongest human masters, it crushed Stockfish, the reigning computer world champion of chess. In a 100-game match against a truly formidable engine, AlphaZero scored 28 wins and 72 draws.
AlphaZero played like no computer ever has, intuitively and beautifully, with a romantic, attacking style. It played gambits and took risks. Grandmasters had never seen anything like it. It was humankind's first glimpse of an awesome new kind of intelligence.
AlphaZero won by thinking smarter, not faster. It was wiser, knowing what to think about and what to ignore. It developed a style of play that Garry Kasparov said reflects the truth about the game. The question now is whether machine learning can help humans discover similar truths about the great unsolved problems of science and medicine, such as cancer and consciousness.
AlphaZero gives every appearance of having discovered some important principles about chess. But as human beings, we want more than answers, we want insight. This is going to be a source of tension in our interactions with computers from now on. As machines become ever faster, a day will come when we can no longer keep up.
This is the golden era of human insight, a glorious interlude between our uncomprehending past and our incomprehensible future.

AR This is the golden era of human insight — I glossed this truth in my book Coral.

2018 December 26

The Large Hadron Collider

The New York Times

The LHC shoots subatomic particles around a 27 km electromagnetic racetrack beneath the French-Swiss countryside, smashing them together, and sifting through the debris for new particles and forces of nature. One reward came in 2012 with the discovery of the Higgs boson.
On 2018-12-03, the LHC was powered down. Over the next two years, it will be upgraded to make its beams more intense and its instruments more sensitive and discerning.
Inside the main ring, some 10 000 superconducting electromagnets guide two beams of protons in opposite directions around the tunnel at 99.99999% of the speed of light, or an energy of 7 TeV. The magnets have a field strength of 8.3 T, generated by an electrical current of 12 kA, and are bathed in 150 tons of superfluid helium at a temperature of 1.9 K.
The proton beams cross 40 million times per second in each of 4 detectors, giving about 1 billion collisions per second. The detectors are like 100 Mpx cameras that take 40 million pictures a second. Triggers select and save the data from only about a thousand collision events per second.
The luminosity of the LHC will increase tenfold by the end of the decade. Luminosity is measured in terms of collisions. It took about 3 quadrillion collisions to confirm the Higgs boson. As of this month, the LHC had logged about 20 quadrillion collisions. The lifetime total should be around 4 quintillion.
We must soon decide which machines to build after the LHC. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has designed a collider 100 km around that could reach energies of 100 TeV.

Quantum Communication Is Faster


Quantum communication beats classical communication. Alice can send exponentially less information to Bob to let him answer a question in a quantum scenario than in a classical scenario.
Imagine Alice has a set of numbered balls. Each ball is randomly colored red or blue. Bob wants to know whether a particular pair of balls, chosen at random, has the same color or different colors. Alice wants to send Bob the least information she can to ensure that Bob can answer his question.
To do so classically, Alice has to send Bob a number of bits proportional to the square root of the number of balls. But use of qubits can be more efficient.
In a new lab experiment, Alice and Bob swap laser pulses. Each pulse represents a ball and goes through a beam splitter, which sends half of it toward Alice and half toward Bob. As a pulse passes by Alice, she can shift its phase to encode whether the ball is red or blue.
Meanwhile Bob encodes information about ball color into his half of the laser pulses. The pulses then converge in another beam splitter and interfere. The way they interfere shows how the phase of each pulse has been shifted. Bob reads the interference pattern using photon detectors.
Alice's message can answer any question about any pair until Bob reads it. But the act of reading it collapses it, yielding information about just one pair of balls.
We knew how many classical bits to send to solve the problem. The experiment shows it can be solved with far fewer qubits.

AR We knew this in theory. Now we know it works.

2018 Christmas Day

Peace and Goodwill

Queen Elizabeth II

The Christian message of peace on Earth and goodwill to all is never out of date. It can be heeded by everyone. Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.
Through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family, and friendship have been a constant source of personal comfort and reassurance.

White House: Home Alone


President Trump, from his 10th Christmas Eve tweet: "I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security."
Democratic speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement: "It's Christmas Eve and President Trump is plunging the country into chaos. The stock market is tanking and the president is waging a personal war on the Federal Reserve — after he just fired the Secretary of Defense."

AR Some people find peace and renewal in time alone.


On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronauts orbiting the Moon saw Earth rising for the first time

US Tanks

Trump's $1 trillion
tax cuts bet fails
as US economy
implodes and
stock market

Vanity Fair

Mattis resignation letter

US Army
US Army
Donald Trump: "We have won
against ISIS .. now it's time
for our troops to come back
home." His call to withdraw
from Syria left Washington
in chaos and confusion.

Russian president Putin:
"Donald's right, and I
agree with him."


D-Day + 100

Theresa May drops manifesto
pledges on social care and
education to prepare for
no-deal doomsday.

AR How about dropping
Brexit to prepare for
social care and

Vanity Fair

"Boris Johnson is an epic shit.
I hope he ends badly."
Tina Brown

Theresa May, Gollum



2018 Christmas Eve

Cherish the Church

Clare Foges

Come with me to the schools, hospices, and care homes where thousands of Christians do good work every day. Seek out the grittiest, grimiest edges of British life and they are there. They are helping addicts limp to liberty from drugs with infinite patience. They are supporting families who are mired in debt. They are caring for those in prison cells whom no one else cares for. They are giving shelter and warm meals to the homeless.
Archbishop Justin Welby: "God is incredibly exciting."

2018 December 23

Americans Against Trump

The New York Times

Jim Mattis did his best to preserve and defend the system of global alliances that the United States spent the last 70 years building and leading. He helped persuade President Trump not to pull out of NATO and worked to reassure Europe.
Mattis offered the same assurances to America's allies in Asia, who are alarmed at China and North Korea. Trump seems unconvinced of the value of the relationship with South Korea and threatened to withdraw forces there.
Mattis was unable to prevent the US abrogation of the Iran nuclear deal, the move of the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, or the decision to withdraw troops from Syria.
Presidents have tremendous power to make national security policy. But Congress also has a role to play, and it now needs to assert that responsibility forcefully.

Germans Against Hitler

Rodric Braithwaite

In the old German defence ministry in Berlin, a floor has been restored to the way it was when a group of distinguished conspirators plotted there to kill Hitler in July 1944. In his new book, Paddy Ashdown gives these and other Germans who opposed Hitler the honour that is their due.
The first attempt to assassinate Hitler was in 1934 and more than 20 followed. The first military plot was hatched in 1938 but was aborted because Britain and France were unwilling to support it. Claus von Stauffenberg and his team were well aware of the risks they ran on 20 July 1944.
In 1954, postwar German president Theodor Heuss praised the Stauffenberg team for trying to preserve German honour. Most Germans now share his view.

2018 December 22

US Breakdown

The New York Times

President Trump boasted he would be "proud" to bring parts of the government to a halt if Congress did not hand over $5 billion for his border wall. By Friday, he was in full attack mode, urging Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to go "nuclear" if necessary. Talks collapsed and shutdown became a certainty.
For most people, uncertainty and disorder are scary. But for Trump, they are cherished friends and strategic assets. Revving up the wall fight allows him to divert attention from the other drama threatening to swallow him up. His administration sinks further and further into the swamp.

Labour Brexit Policy

Jeremy Corbyn

The government has suddenly found £4 billion to prepare for no deal. At the same time, police officers have lost their jobs, there are 100,000 vacancies in the NHS, there is a housing crisis, and a homeless man dies on the steps of Westminster.
I think we should vote down Theresa May's deal. We should then go back to the EU with a discussion about a customs union in which we can be proper trading partners.
As a party, about 60% of Labour voters voted remain and about 40% voted leave. We have to recognise why people voted in those directions. Labour has got to bring all sides together.

Brexit Solves Nothing
Chuka Umunna

Brexit is essentially a project of the hard right of British politics, who want to turn Britain into a lightly regulated, offshore tax haven for the super-rich, devoid of proper protections for workers, and one which seeks to dump the blame for the UK's problems on immigrants.
Labour should stop pretending there is a good Brexit deal and we should certainly not be sponsoring this project. Brexit solves nothing.

Labour Is Incapable
Ian Blackford

Jeremy Corbyn has finally come off the fence he's been sat on for the past two years. But he's come down on the same side as Theresa May. The Labour party is incapable of providing opposition to the worst UK government that most people can remember.

2018 Winter Solstice

Mad Dog Gone, Trump Unbound

Mark Landler

With the resignation of defense secretary Jim Mattis, Donald Trump is at last a president unbound. Mattis left little doubt that he viewed the president as a threat to the American world order.
Trump is convinced that his political survival depends on securing his conservative base. He rejected the stopgap budget deal because it failed to fund the border wall with Mexico. He criticized the Fed because its policy is dampening the stock market, a barometer of his success. And he pulled troops out of Syria because it fulfilled a campaign promise to extract the United States from foreign wars.
Republican senator Marco Rubio said the Mattis resignation "makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances and empower our adversaries."
On several occasions, Mattis and others stalled Trump on his desire to pull out of Syria. But with Christmas coming, Trump decided to pull the trigger now, hoping for a quick win.

AR Globally, Vlad Putin and Xi Jinping are now the adults in the room. The West is in danger.

European Parliament Can Block Brexit

Markus Becker

The European Parliament has to ratify the Brexit deal. But EP president Antonio Tajani says the rules for EP involvement in implementing the deal are unacceptable.
The problem is the power of the EU-UK joint committee, which will implement and apply the withdrawal agreement, including extending the transition period and applying the Irish backstop, without consulting the EP. The European Commission made the withdrawal agreement and said MEPs will only get an annual report on its implementation. Tajani wants to add a passage to the agreement giving the EP more say.
EP Brexit steering group member Elmar Brok: "Having a say is a condition for us to ratify the agreement."

AR Has the UK government seriously thought of this?

Exit From Brexit

Lara Spirit

It is less than 100 days until Brexit. As each day passes, my respect for the political class is in danger of turning to disgust. I see no leadership and no plan.
In schools I have heard the same messages time and again: We are scared about how Brexit will affect our futures and if we were given a chance to make our voices heard we would vote to stay in Europe. There is no deal that is better than the one we already have.


2018 December 20

Worse Than I Thought

Charles M. Blow

When I first wrote about Donald Trump, I had no idea how immoral he actually is.

This week, the Trump Foundation agreed to dissolve under pressure from the New York attorney general, who found that the foundation existed to serve Trump's interests and engaged in illegal coordination with his presidential campaign.

Nearly every aspect of Trump's life is now under investigation for wrongdoing.
 I could not have predicted the extraordinary lengths to which he would go to obstruct justice
    and undermine the rule of law, nor that he would do these things in full view, for all to see.
 I could not have predicted, when I first wrote that he was a pathological liar, that his rate of
    lying would increase with his time in office, rather than decrease.
 I could not have predicted the huge number of contacts between his people and Russians during
    the campaign, or how many were charged, indicted, or convicted of lying about them.

I couldn't have predicted any of it.

My Advice for Theresa May

Deepak Malhotra

Only weeks after the 2016 Brexit referendum, I wrote in the Harvard Business Review on the false promises upon which the Leavers had built their case. The UK government has to sell a lesser deal or end up with no deal at all.

Theresa May focused too much on her own political problems and ignored EU fears and constraints. She indulged expectations based on the false promises and adopted the Leaver narrative. To rescue the process, she must stop acting like an agent and start acting like a mediator:
1 Think through the endgame. If the deal is defeated, the hard Brexiteers prefer a no-deal Brexit
    to a second referendum. May almost certainly prefers a referendum to driving off a cliff.
2 Lead and negotiate honestly. Admit publicly that the deal has serious problems. Whatever anyone
    wants, no one has explained how the Irish backstop is to be avoided or how it will end.
3 Convert honesty into negotiation leverage. The less people like the deal, the more likely they will
    be to accept a second referendum. This offers leverage with MPs who refuse to back the deal.
4 Use that leverage. May should announce her intention to hold a second referendum if she cannot
    get enough support for her deal. If the deal is defeated, follow through. It helps avoid no deal.

May needs to do something to break the impasse.

AR A new vote would require further months to implement — more chaos to come!

2018 December 19


Thomas L. Friedman

The middle classes that powered US and EU growth were built on high-wage, middle-skilled jobs. But robotics and AI and outsourcing and Chinese imports have wiped out a lot of them. Now there are high-wage, high-skilled jobs and low-wage, low-skilled jobs, plus a considerable cohort of people with stagnant incomes and burning resentments.

When you challenge all the things that anchor people and then amp it all up with social networks, you can get a really ferocious blowback. It is going to take extraordinary US and EU leadership to come up with a strategy for these grievances. But that leadership is not present.

I get why a slim majority of UK citizens voted for Brexit, as it was sold to them. But to watch the Conservative party hacks who pushed that lie continue to demand that their prime minister deliver this fantasy Brexit in the face of the reality that it's impossible is to watch a once-sane country write a suicide note in a moment of irrationality and then argue endlessly over how to carry it out. They've got to know that disconnecting in a connected world is nuts.

I don't think there are national solutions to this problem.

2018 December 18

Battle of Brexit

The Times

The UK cabinet has decided to ramp up preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The government will spend an extra £2 billion on contingency planning. UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson promises to hold 3,500 service personnel at readiness for any contingencies arising from Brexit.

Britain Bolloxed

Rachel Sylvester

Just 101 days to Brexit. Theresa May has postponed the Commons vote on her withdrawal agreement until next year because she knows she will lose it. Jeremy Corbyn has not tabled a motion of no confidence in the government because he wants to avoid a second referendum.

Corbyn is a closet Brexiteer. A zombie prime minister is shadowed by a leader offering only an illusion of opposition. Both see the People's Vote campaign as a sinister plot and neither is truly committed to their public stand on Brexit.

Crucial domestic policy reforms are on hold because the government is preoccupied with Brexit.
At a time when the UK needs leadership, it has no government and no opposition.

Business Banjaxed


British business has had its worst year since the financial crisis: Estimated GDP growth for 2018 is 1.2%. Companies are hardly investing at all. The weakness of the pound is driving inflation. Just three months before Brexit, disagreements over which way to go are as wide as ever.

The UK government admits that Brexit will damage business. Uncertainty since the referendum has made British GDP an estimated 2% lower than it would have been with a vote to remain. The cost to the Treasury is estimated at £500 million per week.

The NIESR conservatively estimates that British GDP in 2030 will be 4% lower than if there were no Brexit. Remaining in the EU would be better for business.

2018 December 17

Brexit: Commons Vote

BBC News, UCT 1652

Theresa May has told Parliament that MPs will vote on the Brexit deal in the week beginning
14 January 2019.

Brexit Makes EU Stronger

Clare Foges

Britain's departure may turn out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to the EU.

Once the UK finally limps out, the EU will not fall to pieces. Eurosceptic fantasies have been brutally exposed by reality as the ongoing car crash is mercilessly mocked in Europe. Far from weakening the EU, as some Leavers hoped, Brexit may only have made it stronger.

AR This Full English Brexit is a sick dog's vomit breakfast.

2018 December 16

The Lord of the Rings

Niall Ferguson

Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, has released a spoof video combining the characters of Theresa May and Tolkien's Gollum.

Leaving aside the Bible and the Koran, The Lord of the Rings is the most popular book in the history of publishing, having sold more than 150 million copies since its publication in 1954. Its influence is ubiquitous from Oxford, where J.R.R. Tolkien spent most of his life, to Silicon Valley, which is full of Tolkien enthusiasts. But nearly all Tolkien's millions of readers seem somehow to have missed the fact that his fiction is founded on a profoundly conservative philosophy.

Tolkien hit on the title in 1938 during the Munich crisis. He was contemptuous of Hitler but much more suspicious of Stalin. As war drew near, Tolkien reflected that he had "a loathing of being on any side that includes Russia" and believed that Stalin was probably more responsible for the crisis.

Tolkien, 1941: "People in this land seem not even yet to realise that in the Germans we have enemies whose virtues (and they are virtues) of obedience and patriotism are greater than ours in the mass. I have in this War a burning private grudge against .. Hitler for ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."

AR I see Tolkien as a British admirer of Nietzsche and Wagner, and The Lord of the Rings as an English homage to Also sprach Zarathustra and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Recasting those forbidding works as a children's novel with a happy ending (and Zarathustra as Sauron) was a stroke of genius. Tolkien read English at my college in Oxford.

2018 December 15

Climate Change

BBC News

COP24, Katowice, Poland, Saturday — Negotiators have finally secured agreement on a range of measures that will make the Paris climate pact operational in 2020. The agreement aims to limit global warming to less than 2 K.

China's climate chief Xie Zhenhua: "Climate change is the greatest challenge of mankind, in front of it no country is spared, and destinies are shared."

Black Hole Navigation

Stephen Battersby

Quasars are intense beacons of light surrounding supermassive black holes in distant galaxies. Astronomers can pinpoint quasars accurately from the radio waves they emit by using very long baseline interferometry (VLBI).

The International Celestial Reference Frame (ICRF-3) is fixed in place by 303 of the most compact and stable quasars. On average, the angular location of the quasars is accurate to within 150 picorad. The frame is used for all position measurements in astronomy.

The center of the frame is set at the center of mass of our solar system, with an NS axis parallel to Earth's polar axis on 2000-01-01. ICRF-3 also includes about 4000 other quasars distributed around the sky as reference points for navigation.

We can detect any deviations from the planned course of a spacecraft by observing its angular position relative to a quasar. On Earth, tracking variations in Earth's rotation speed relative to the ICRF lets us know when to insert leap seconds into UCT.

Up to now, VLBI was our only way to measure extragalactic sources accurately. But in April, the Gaia mission published a catalog of the same sources in optical wavelengths. This can be used to further refine the ICRF.

AR If the ICRF is taken as fixed, we can measure whether the universe is rotating and hence whether Gödel's solution to the Einstein field equations may be true.


Juno image of Jupiter clouds

Church of England bishops
are praying for "courage,
integrity and clarity for
our politicians"
on Brexit

Völker der Welt,
schaut auf diese Frau!
Theresa May verdient


A white hole

"The problem is not May.
The problem is Brexit."
Jonathan Freedland

UK in crisis:
Queen silent

Theresa May, Gollum

Peter Brookes 2016
Boris Johnson dubbed "most
irresponsible politician the
country has seen for many
years" at Economist awards

May fails

"Mrs May should have gone
down with her deal."
Allison Pearson

Merz, AKK
imago/Emmanuele Contini
Friedrich Merz, AKK

Anne Will mit AKK
(ARD, 59:42)

People's Vote UK

Black hole
Jean-Pierre Luminet


Brexit Bluff

Camilla Cavendish

Something fundamental changed in British politics this week. Theresa May can now stop worrying about her own survival and start acting in the national interest. She should offer parliament a vote on a second referendum with two options: her deal or remain. The prime minister should stare down the silly boys in parliament and challenge them to grow up.

Brexit Nightmare

Martin Wolf

The UK and the EU are sleepwalking toward a no-deal Brexit. It would be insane, but, as WW1 showed, the insane can easily happen. The UK would become a rogue state, its reputation for reliability and reason would perish, and the lives of millions of citizens and the operations of countless businesses would be plunged into turmoil. Or let the people vote again.

Brexit Undead

Janice Turner

I hope those who want a second referendum are ready for what they will unleash. Brexit voters have had two years being called stupid, racist, old, deluded, "gammons" who should hurry up and die so Remainers can drape EU flags on their graves. Their campaign will be of furious betrayal, righteous anger: "We're not dead yet!"

AR 2019: Anarchy in the UK

2018 December 14

Climate Change

John Kerry

Americans are not getting the job done in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet. With continued growth in emissions, annual losses in some economic sectors are projected to reach hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

Global emissions are forecast to go up by 2.7% this year. Instead of reining them in, the Trump administration would unleash more by replacing the Clean Power Plan with a rule that could allow power plants to unload 12 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Instead of controlling fuel emissions, the administration is rolling back fuel economy standards that the auto industry had embraced.

Future generations will measure us by whether we acted. Congress should send Trump legislation addressing this crisis, or we will all be judged failures.

US Foreign Policy

Edward Luce

Donald Trump has so far avoided starting new wars. But his potential to mess up remains epic, particularly with China. The irony is that George W. Bush made many of the mistakes of which Trump stands accused. Trump dismisses Europe, sidelines NATO, and revels in a unilateral America, but Bush did the same.

Trump is also accused of incompetence, but again Bush 43 was worse. The magic of Trump is that by uniting the elites in revulsion against his abrasive style, he has restored their moral sense. On China, Trump and the blob are ominously coming around to the view that it must be confronted.

EU: Brexit Deal Frozen

The Guardian

Jean-Claude Juncker: "We have to bring down the temperature. These attacks coming from Westminster against Europe and the European Commission will not be responded to in the same way by Europe and the European Commission, although I would like to do it."

Donald Tusk: "Yesterday's conclusions are quite clear I think and we have to treat it as a good sign, I mean, that we are ready to reconfirm our assurances and our goodwill and good faith when it comes to the so-called backstop."

Brexit: No Exit

Markus Becker

There is a good case for a new Brexit referendum. Now at least voters can know what they are voting on. In 2016, that was not remotely the case.

But a second referendum campaign could be even uglier than the first. And it would break British society if Remainers won by a narrow margin. The losers would say they had been robbed and would take to the streets in fury.

Europhobic populists have been harassing UK governments for decades. Their wrath would be fearful if their beloved Brexit were snatched from their grasp. The UK government would face riots each time it made any concessions within the EU.

The idea that British political clowns like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Jacob Rees-Mogg might get hosed in a second referendum is tempting, as is the prospect of keeping a major country in the club. But it may be better for all concerned if the UK first spends a few years out in the cold.

These years would be unpleasant. Britain is a pipsqueak beside America, China, and Europe. It would need years to make better trade deals than the EU already has.

A humbled Britain could then apply to rejoin the EU, accepting the EU is not all bad and the UK is no world power. Brits are not there yet.

Brexit Bad

The New York Times

In the Westminster parliament, Brexit is often seen as a domestic issue with no thought of other interests. Rare is the politician who suggests the UK should welcome a strong role in Europe. The party challenge to Theresa May has not helped. The options are still:
 The deal, as is
 No deal, exit
 No Brexit

AR Britain is cruising for a bruising.

2018 December 13

White Holes

Carlo Rovelli

In a black hole, general relativity says matter falls onto a central singularity. There we need a new theory.

Space is composed of discrete quanta, which are small but finite. Falling matter can squeeze into a Planck star, but no more. Then quantum gravity lets the entire spacetime geometry of the black hole bounce out as a white hole.

A white hole is time-reversed black hole. Whereas a black hole is surrounded by a horizon through which it is possible to enter but not to exit, a white hole is surrounded by a horizon through which it is possible to exit but not to enter.

General relativity allows white holes. A minimal adjustment in the solution of its equations lets the geometry of a black hole interior continue into a white hole. Quantum mechanics allows it too.

The white hole is where the black hole was, in its future. The other side of the center of a black hole can be in the future of the hole. In the first part of its life, the hole is black and matter falls in. In the second, it is white and matter bounces out.

Quantum tunneling lets the horizon switch from black to white. In classical theory a black hole is eternal, but in quantum theory black holes evaporate and shrink. As they shrink, the probability that they tunnel into a white hole increases.

Time is flexible in general relativity. Seen from the outside, the internal evolution of the hole appears like a bounce in super slow motion. The holes we see in the sky may be objects that collapse and bounce back out, seen in slo-mo.

Seen from inside the hole there is no singularity, and seen from outside a black hole is not eternal. Rather, at some time the black hole turns white and whatever fell in pops out.

Our universe might have bounced out from a previous collapse. The cosmic bounce is a bounce from black to white. Tiny white holes in dark matter could have formed before the bounce. Spacetime might be very crumpled, with each white hole like a long spike out in its geometry.

The arrow of time might be a perspectival effect related to our location outside all the holes.

AR Brilliant!

2018 December 12

May Wins Confidence Vote

BBC News, UCT 2100

UK prime minister Theresa May won the vote of confidence in her leadership by 200 votes to 117.

Brexit: No Confidence

BBC News, UCT 0753

UK prime minister Theresa May will face a vote of no confidence in her leadership today between 1800 and 2000 UCT. Conservative MPs will vote following receipt by 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady of the required 48 letters calling for a contest.

Bet No Deal
Daniel Finkelstein

The chances of no deal are very high indeed. Looked at another way, the things we have to do now to secure a deal are starting to look forbiddingly difficult. What a disaster. What a disgrace.

AR I'd better starting ramping up plans for the Ross Brexodus.

Insect Armageddon

Brooke Jarvis

A whole insect world is dying. Measured by weight, the overall abundance of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased by 75% over 27 years. If you look at midsummer population peaks, the drop is 82%.

The German study indicates a vast impoverishment of an entire insect universe. There are documented downward slides of various kinds of bees, moths, butterflies, and beetles. A 2014 review synthesized the findings of existing studies and found that a majority of monitored species were declining, on average by 45%.

A million known species of insects represent perhaps a fifth of the global diversity of insects. The current loss of biodiversity is driven partly by climate change and habitat degradation. Insects are also dealing with herbicides and pesticides, along with the loss of meadows, forests, and wild patches to human expansion.

Ecosystems can unravel. Functional extinction occurs when animals and plants are still present but too few to affect how the ecosystem works. Since 1970, terrestrial populations of wild land animals have declined on average by 60%. Wild mammals have declined by over 80%. Instead we have humans and livestock.

Some insects will learn to thrive in new environments. Agricultural monocultures allow some pests to reach unprecedented population levels. We need much more data to better understand the how and why of the ups and downs.

Europe is acting much faster than the United States to address the decline of insects. Hearings have been held on protecting insect biodiversity in the German Bundestag and the European Parliament.

AR We all need to get real on protecting the natural environment.

Vibrations: A Theory of Consciousness

Tam Hunt

The resonance theory of consciousness says synchronized vibrations are at the heart of not only human consciousness but of physical reality more generally.

All things in our universe are constantly in motion, vibrating. Even objects that appear to be stationary are in fact vibrating, oscillating, resonating, at various frequencies. Ultimately, all matter is just vibrations of various underlying fields.

Pascal Fries has explored how gamma, theta, and beta waves vibrate together in the brain to give rise to human consciousness. Gamma waves are typically defined as about 30−90 Hz, theta 4−7 Hz, and beta 12.5−30 Hz. The three work together for various types of human consciousness.

Fries calls his concept communication through coherence, CTC. Neural synchronization allows for smooth communication between neural groups. Without coherence, inputs arrive at random phases of the neuron excitability cycle and have much less effect.

The resonance theory of consciousness can help explain not only mammalian consciousness but also consciousness more broadly. All things may be viewed as at least dimly conscious. Panpsychism is an increasingly accepted position on the nature of consciousness.

Panpsychists say consciousness and matter are two sides of the same coin. The mind associated with most of the matter in our universe is generally very simple. Biological organisms leverage faster information exchange to become more conscious than rocks.

Communication between resonating structures is key for consciousness to expand beyond the dim glimmer we expect in rocks. Higher consciousness results from a shared resonance among many less conscious constituents. The speed of the resonant waves sets the size of a conscious entity.

A resonance theory of consciousness gets to the heart of the mind and the evolution of physical systems. Reality and consciousness are all about vibrations.

AR Essentially the theory I've held for some 20 years — see Mindworlds.

2018 December 11

Brexit Fail: A Cathartic Collapse

Polly Toynbee

Theresa May's vote was set to be the cathartic moment when the UK finally faced the Brexit truth. The cataclysmic collapse of her deal would have wiped the slate clean, freeing everyone to rethink. Hers was the only deal possible if the red line is stopping immigration and free movement.

Every day, a referendum looks more likely. The Brexiteer threat that any attempt to run another referendum would cause rebellion, mob rule and riots on the streets, is project fear. The country will not be intimidated by the absurd idea of people rioting against getting the chance to express themselves in a democratic vote.

AR Embrace EU immigrants as a solution, not a problem.

Brexit Folly: Taking Back Control

Paul Johnson

A hard Brexit would let the UK take back control of trade policy. The Treasury has been inundated already with special pleading to abolish VAT on a range of specific goods and services, which is illegal inside the EU but not outside. This is the freedom of the alcoholic presented with a drink.

National governments unconstrained by international agreements tend to go for more state intervention. EU membership restrains state involvement in the economy. After a decade of dreadful UK productivity growth, there is reawakened interest in a more interventionist industrial policy.

The UK economy grew more slowly than almost all its competitors in the three decades after WW2. Since then, the UK has failed to invest enough in infrastructure, to run an effective education system, to design an efficient tax system, to build enough houses in the right places, to support innovation, and to improve management capacity. The EU is innocent.

AR Parliament is too drunk on power to take back control.

Brexit Options: Almost All Red Alert

Magnus Linklater

Risk assessors use traffic lights to grade risk: red for disaster looming, amber for watch out, green for maybe OK. Almost every Brexit option is red: a vote of no confidence, a general election, a Labour victory, Jeremy Corbyn negotiating with the EU, a falling pound, panic on the markets, all red. Just one choice is amber: Theresa May's proposed deal.

A second referendum is also red. Most opinion polls suggest there has been little movement among leavers and remainers. The outrage of those who lose might bring violence onto the streets.

AR Defy the Brexiteer threat. Remaining in the EU is green.

2018 December 10

Brexit Chaos: May Calls Off Vote

BBC News, UCT 1635

UK prime minister Theresa May has called off tomorrow's Commons vote on her Brexit deal following advice that she would lose heavily. House speaker John Bercow called on the government to give MPs a vote on whether that vote should be cancelled, saying it was the "right and obvious" thing to do given how angry some MPs were about the cancellation.

AR She is still in denial on a new referendum.

Brexit Ruling: UK Can Cancel It

BBC News

The European Court of Justice has ruled the UK can cancel Brexit without the permission of the other 27 EU members. The ECJ ruled this could be done without altering UK terms of membership.

"So an extension of Article 50 to allow time for another vote, followed by revocation of Article 50 if the outcome is Remain seems to be an option that is now open to the House of Commons."
Nicola Sturgeon

AR Well said, Nicola, that is indeed the best plan.

European Union: Can AKK Save It?

Alan Posener

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is the new leader of the CDU. AKK was the candidate of the party's women's and youth organizations, and was chosen by Angela Merkel, whose chancellorship expires in 2021.

Merkel is a Protestant from Prussia. AKK is a Catholic from the Saarland, wedged between France and Germany. Merkel is devoid of convictions; AKK is a European conservative. Merkel came in at the top as a token East German woman after unification; AKK slogged her way up through the ranks and led governments at local and state levels.

All the European heavyweights except Germany are paralyzed by populism. Merkel will leave the mess to AKK to sort out. AKK will go the extra mile to preserve the EU.

AR Will German populists defeat AKK in 2021?

2018 December 9

Climate Latest

The Guardian

UN climate conference, Katowice, Saturday — The United States and Russia have allied with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to reject a motion to welcome the UN report on the need to keep global warming below 1.5 K. Instead, they said it should merely be noted.

Union of Concerned Scientists director of strategy and policy Alden Meyer: "It is troubling .. Donald Trump .. takes a personal interest in dissing scientists. But the science won't go away."

AR Big oil prefers profits to peace.

Trump Latest

The New York Times

In the narrative that special counsel Robert Mueller and New York prosecutors are building, Donald Trump continued to secretly seek to do business in Russia deep into his presidential campaign even as Russian agents made more efforts to influence him. At the same time, in this account he ordered hush payments to two women to suppress stories of impropriety.

Justice Department officials say that if Mueller found evidence that the president broke the law, he would not be indicted while in office. Trump's lawyers fear Mueller is trying to cast him as an unindicted co-conspirator.

AR President Trottel is doomed.

Brexit Latest

BBC News

The Commons vote on Tuesday will not be delayed, says Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay. He also says Theresa May could stay in post if, as expected, MPs reject her Brexit plan. May says rejection could lead to a general election, and there is a "very real risk of no Brexit".

AR Sounds good.

2018 December 8

Black Holes


Black holes appear to stay a constant size as viewed from the outside, but their interiors keep growing in volume essentially forever. Leonard Susskind suggests this is because they are steadily increasing in complexity.

According to general relativity, their inward gravitational collapse never stops. Their interior volume grows bigger and bigger with time as space stretches toward the center point. Imagine a black hole as a funnel that gets ever deeper, so that infalling stuff never reaches the singularity at the bottom. In reality, a black hole is a funnel that stretches inward in 3D.

Susskind suggests the evolving quantum property of a black hole that underlies its growing volume is its complexity, or the number of computations needed to recover its initial quantum state. After its formation, as stuff inside the black hole interacts, the information about the initial state becomes ever more scrambled, raising complexity.

Using toy models that represent black holes as holograms, Susskind and his collaborators have shown that the complexity and volume of black holes both grow at the same rate. So not only do black holes store all the information they can on their surface area, they also grow in complexity as fast as the laws of physics allow.

Researchers are still puzzling over the idea.


Mars InSight 2.2 m solar panel imaged by Instrument Deployment Camera

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
(AKK) ist neue CDU-Chefin

AR Merkel mini-me,
no chancellor


Holger Zschaepitz

German DAX now
in bear market

On The Future
"The only realistic way to
stabilize carbon emissions is
enhanced R&D in the hope
that it will bring the cost
of clean energy down"
Martin Rees


Anil Ananthaswamy on a
new quantum paradox

White House
Melania Trump is FLOTUS
and was born and raised
in the Yugoslav republic
of Slovenia

Apocalypse No Deal

Go Gal Not

Theresa May says Britain will
walk away from the military
side of the EU Galileo sat-nav
system, fearing lost influence
after Brexit, and build a
new system compatible
with the US GPS.

AR Wasteful duplication


British Crisis

Ian Jack

Personal reactions recorded by Mass Observation in 1938:
"It's a fucking mess, ain't it?"
"No one knows what'll happen."
"I can't understand it properly, but it doesn't seem too good to me."

A Leave voter on BBC compared the Brexit negotiations to afternoon tea and biscuits. He said the
UK had behaved like "a soggy rich tea" in its negotiations with the "solid Hobnob" that was the EU:
"If we'd have sent a Hobnob with chocolate on we'd have won."

A man in 1938: "Keep out of foreign entanglements, that's best. Old England's the best country
in the world."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

2018 December 7

DeepMind Progress

Financial Times

London-based artificial intelligence company DeepMind announces two research successes: the strongest game-playing AI so far and the world's most powerful predictor of the shape of protein molecules. Its AlphaFold system won an international competition to predict the 3D structure of proteins from their genetic sequence. Google owns DeepMind and will develop its Streams business, an AI-based assistant for nurses and doctors, to generate revenues from health systems.

An algorithm that masters chess, shogi, and Go
David Silver et al.

AlphaZero can achieve superhuman performance in many challenging games. Starting from random play and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero convincingly defeated a world champion program in the games of chess and shogi (Japanese chess), as well as Go.

AlphaZero replaces the handcrafted knowledge and domain-specific augmentations used in traditional game-playing programs with deep neural networks, a general-purpose reinforcement learning algorithm, and a general-purpose tree search algorithm.

AlphaGo Zero used a convolutional neural network architecture. Its hyperparameters were tuned by Bayesian optimization. In AlphaZero, we reuse the same hyperparameters, algorithm settings, and network architecture for all games without game-specific tuning. The only exceptions are the exploration noise and the learning rate schedule.

We trained separate instances of AlphaZero for chess, shogi, and Go. Training proceeded for 700,000 steps starting from randomly initialized parameters. During training only, 5000 first-generation tensor processing units (TPUs) were used to generate self-play games, and 16 second-generation TPUs were used to train the neural networks. Training lasted for approximately 9 hours in chess, 12 hours in shogi, and 13 days in Go.

We evaluated the fully trained instances of AlphaZero against Stockfish, Elmo, and the previous version of AlphaGo Zero in chess, shogi, and Go, respectively:
 In Go, AlphaZero defeated AlphaGo Zero, winning 61% of games.
 In chess, AlphaZero defeated Stockfish, winning 155 games and losing 6 games out of 1000.
 In shogi, AlphaZero defeated Elmo, winning 98.2% of games when playing black and 91.2% overall.

AlphaZero searches just 60,000 positions per second in chess and shogi, compared with 60 million for Stockfish and 25 million for Elmo. AlphaZero may compensate for the lower number of evaluations by using its deep neural network to focus much more selectively on the most promising variations.

AlphaZero is a generic reinforcement learning and search algorithm that achieved superior results within a few hours, searching as many positions, given no domain knowledge except the game rules. These results bring us a step closer to a system that can learn to master any game.

2018 December 6

Trumpian Nationalism

Edward Luce

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo spoke in Brussels: "We want our friends to help us and to exert their sovereignty as well."

He tried to convince America's allies that a new global liberal order would arise from the spread of America First imitations. The west should fear the rise of China and Russia. The best way to confront such adversaries is to abandon multilateralism, he said.

Pompeo said bodies such as the EU, UN, World Bank, and the IMF should be reformed or eliminated: "The more treaties we sign, the safer we supposedly are. The more bureaucrats we have, the better the job gets done. But was that ever really true?"

He said no and listed treaties and bodies the Trump administration has abandoned. These include the Paris deal on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Council, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The next target, he hinted, would be the WTO. Trump sees the WTO as a globalist plot. To Brexiteers, the WTO is an ocean on which the UK should gloriously set sail.

Brussels received Pompeo's speech in silence.

2018 December 5

Seven Steps to Save the Planet

New Scientist

To give ourselves a good chance of avoiding 1.5 K of global warming, we must hit peak greenhouse gas emissions soon and taper them down to net zero by about 2050.

How many more tons (Mg) of CO2 can we afford to dump into the atmosphere?
We think 770 Pg gives us an evens chance of limiting warming to 1.5 K. For a two-thirds chance, we must go down to 570 Pg. Annual global emissions are currently around 40 Pg. So:

1 Kill fossil fuels
We are making rapid progress in wind and solar electricity generation. Over a tenth of global energy comes from modern renewable sources. We need to reach at least a half by 2050, by decarbonizing electricity generation, ending subsidies for fossil fuels, and pricing for environmental damage.

2 Travel light
More than 90% of transport is powered by oil and just 3% by renewables. Transport causes around a quarter of global emissions, growing by about 2.5% a year. Electric vehicles, better fuel efficiency, and use of biofuels can cut a lot. The rest can be done by traveling less.

3 Rebuild everything
Buildings give rise to about a quarter of global emissions, mostly for lighting, heating, cooling, elevators, office machines, and so on. A third of the emissions are for heating and cooking. New buildings must be constructed sustainably, with less concrete and steel, preferably by 2020.

4 A new industrial revolution
Industrial emissions must be cut by around 80% by phasing out coal, increasing efficiency, and electrification. We need massive investment in R&D to roll out new processes for making cement, steel, aluminum, and so on. For needed fossil fuels, carbon capture and storage (CCS) can help.

5 Reap what we sow
Land use accounts for about a quarter of carbon emissions. Land can be a carbon sink but we need it to grow food. We need to intensify agriculture and reduce our consumption of foods whose production results in lots of greenhouse gas emissions, such as those that come from cattle.

6 Suck, not blow
Some emissions are from sources we do not know how to eliminate and others are too hard to get rid of entirely. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies can help. Planting forests is the simplest way. Another approach is bioenergy with CCS.

7 Change ourselves
Power generation, transport, industry, buildings, and agriculture all involve our own actions. Change means sacrifices: driving less, flying less, consuming less meat, having fewer children.

One way or another, big change is coming.

2018 December 4

Climate Denial

Paul Krugman

Q What kind of party would support a leader who is not only evidently corrupt and seemingly in the pocket of foreign dictators, but also routinely denies facts and tries to criminalize anyone who points them out?

A The kind of the party that long ago committed itself to denying the facts on climate change and criminalizing the scientists reporting those facts. The Republican party is dominated by climate deniers, even as the damage from a warming planet becomes more and more obvious.

Donald Trump is the culmination of where his party has been going for years.

AR Big Oil, big money, bigoted politics.

Brexit Bombshells

BBC News

1 The UK government has been found in contempt of parliament for the first time ever. The government has been forced to publish its full legal advice on Theresa May's Brexit deal.

2 Parliament has voted against the government for an amendment that will ensure MPs can vote in favour of a plan B option in January if Theresa May's deal gets voted down.

3 The UK can withdraw its notification to leave the EU without first seeking EU permission, according to European Court of Justice legal advice.

AR A way is opening to stop the Brexit juggernaut.

Brexit Wounds

Max Hastings

The political crisis has created tensions between old friends, and within families, such as few of us have ever experienced. Sir Michael Howard recalls the Suez crisis of 1956: "Suez happened, and was appallingly divisive, but then was over. Brexit will go on and on."

Tories perceived in Irish home rule, which finally resulted in the partition of Ireland in 1922, a threat to the integrity of the UK, which might in turn adumbrate the unravelling of the British Empire. The matter in dispute today is less profound only because the UK is a much less important place. But to those of us who live here, what is taking place seems so serious that it is hard to sit across a table even with friends of long standing who welcome Brexit.

To those who view the leading Brexiteers as gods, prospective deliverers of our nation from the heathen across the Channel, I cannot imagine what arguments we might advance that would change their minds. They consider it worth accepting any financial burden short of selling the horses to escape the thraldom of Brussels.

Israeli historian Avi Shlaim considers Brexit a graver strategic disaster for the UK than was Suez.

AR Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King says Theresa May's Brexit deal is like Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Adolf Hitler.


Rachel Sylvester

When Theresa May was home secretary, she promised to create a hostile environment for illegal immigrants and sent Go Home vans to tour ethnically diverse areas.

The government's white paper on immigration has been delayed yet again, so MPs will have no idea what will replace the free movement of people when they give their verdict on the Brexit deal in next week's vote in parliament.

There is profound disagreement at the top of the Conservative party about the meaning of the referendum result and what kind of country the UK should be after leaving the EU. For the Home Office, the immigration system should be about economics rather than identity politics. For the prime minister, immigration is more about culture than GDP.

The only red line that has survived May's negotiations with the EU is the end of free movement.

AR I say drop May and keep free movement.

2018 December 3

Climate Change

UNO Climate Conference, Katowice, Poland

German politicians hope for progress: "Protecting the climate is a question of survival for humanity."

Saboteur in Chief

Fintan O'Toole

Donald Trump wears his most contemptible qualities as crown jewels. He uses them to distract us from the slow, boring, apparently mundane but deeply insidious sabotaging of government. His project is not to administer the government of the United States but to bring it into disrepute.

America has a permanent public service of two million employees, but the top layers of each department and institution are made up of four thousand presidential appointees.

In August 2016, Trump was enraged to discover that the head of his transition team, Chris Christie, had raised several million dollars to meet the campaign's legal obligations to start planning to take over the government after the presidential election. He yelled at Christie: "You're stealing my money! You're stealing my fucking money! What is this? .. Fuck the law. I don't give a fuck about the law. I want my fucking money."

As of October 2018, Trump has failed even to put forward a nominee for 139 of the top 704 positions requiring confirmation by the Senate.

Another way to wreck American government is to appoint the worst possible person. The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should have a strong scientific background. Barry Myers has no scientific credentials and runs a company that profits from NOAA weather data by marketing it for paying clients. Trump nominated Myers as head of NOAA.

Brexit Bigotry

Matthew d'Ancona

I'm done with the pretence that the argument about Brexit is a subtle jurisprudential discussion about sovereignty, or an exciting debate about the business plan for UK plc.

The most significant factor in the leave vote was anxiety about the number of people coming to the UK. That's why Theresa May was so uncompromising last week when urged by cabinet colleagues that it was not too late to reconsider the impact of tighter immigration policy on British companies. An end to free movement, she said, was a red line.

For decades there was a political consensus that the most important metric was economic prosperity. The political parties were as one in their conviction that nothing much was possible without a strong economy. Brexit shows that immigration is now central to the whole debate, which is less about wealth or sovereignty than national identity.

Beneath all the talk of control and global Britain is an unpleasant nativism. There is no respectable evidence that immigration has had more than a marginal impact upon public service capacity, wage levels, or net welfare costs. But many Britons don't much like people of foreign extraction and don't want many more of them around the place.

We live in an interdependent world. Those who promise that leaving the EU will deliver control are really promising an absurd and horrible vision of Britain's future.

2018 December 2

America Versus China

The New York Times

The United States and China have called a truce in their trade war. US president Donald Trump agreed to hold off on new tariffs and Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to increase Chinese purchases of American products. The compromise averted a breakdown, but the two sides remain far apart on basic issues of market access and trade policy.

George H.W. Bush


In a meeting with US president Trump at the G20 Summit in Argentina, Chinese president Xi Jinping praised the role of former US president George H.W. Bush in helping to improve China-US relations.

Following Nixon's 1972 visit to Mao Zedong in Beijing, Bush became US envoy there in 1974 and met with several key Chinese leaders, including Mao and Deng Xiaoping, as well as numerous military and diplomatic heads.

Bush was elected as POTUS 41 in 1988. Following the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989, his administration imposed sanctions on China. Behind the scenes, Bush reached out to smooth relations: "My long history with Deng and the other leaders made it possible for us to work through the crises without derailing Sino-American relations."

When Bush was looking to build consensus for action against Iraq in 1991, China chose not to use its UN veto power. Later, during his dozens of post-presidency visits to China, Bush was greeted with reverence as a great old friend of China.

Bush: "I love the Chinese people. One of my dreams for our world is that these two powerful giants will continue working toward a full partnership and friendship that will bring peace and prosperity to people everywhere."

2018 December 1

Brexit Apocalypse

Philip Aldrick

The Bank of England Brexit apocalypse scenario — 8% economic contraction, interest rates at 5.5%, fall in sterling below parity with the dollar, net emigration of 100,000 a year, 30% dive in house prices — is a tail possibility, says BoE governor Mark Carney.

Buried in appendix A of the BoE document is a milder no-deal scenario in which the UK reverts to WTO rules after a smooth transition in January 2021. Sterling falls by 8.5%, the UK takes a net 85,000 immigrants a year, and the economy is 5.25% smaller than remaining in the EU at the end of 2023. But appendix A does not solve the Irish border issue.

Justine Greening has a roadmap for a second referendum on May 30. Labour is edging toward pushing for a vote and Nigel Farage endorses one. Greening proposes a poll with three options: remain, leave with the present deal, or leave with no deal.

Theresa May's deal is dreadful. An extension of the transition deadline for trade negotiations would probably trigger another political crisis and risk another apocalypse scenario.

Mathematics of Evolution

Jordana Cepelewicz

Genetic algorithms use the principles of evolution to engineer new designs. They test random solutions to a problem and then combine them with random mutations to produce a second generation of solutions, which they test, and so on. Many iterations later, they return a fit solution.

Genetic programming evolves software to write programs that solve problems efficiently. Its methods involve a mathematical theory of complexity and randomness. Algorithmic information theory (AIT) takes the idea that it can be computationally easier to describe how to generate something than to generate it.

AIT says the probability of producing some types of outputs is far greater when randomness operates at the level of the program describing it rather than at the level of the output itself. In this way, complex structures can be more easily produced by chance. But the algorithmic complexity (a.k.a. Kolmogorov complexity) of a given output is not computable.

Gregory Chaitin: "Mathematically, it's a simple, beautiful measure of complexity, but it looked unapproachable for real-world applications."

In 2012, Chaitin described how evolution can be seen as a random walk through software space. The mutations along that walk follow a distribution based on Kolmogorov complexity. But he had no way to test it.

Hector Zenil uses Kolmogorov complexity as a metric for analyzing the complexity of biological networks, such as those that model gene regulation or protein interactions in cells. The algorithmic information content of a network is approximated, then a mutation is introduced to the network and its effect on the Kolmogorov complexity tested. Moving the network toward greater Kolmogorov complexity tends to increase the number of functions the system can perform and makes it more sensitive to perturbation.

Evolving artificial genetic networks toward certain targets by biasing the mutations in favor of lower algorithmic complexity causes the networks to evolve toward solutions significantly faster. Some regions become less prone to mutation and may have evolved to be simpler, immediately suggesting genes. Perhaps biological evolution operates via such computational rules.

Chaitin: "The idea of thinking about life as evolving software is fertile."

AR I was first excited by all this when I worked at Springer.


Greens are now the second most popular party in Germany — and first among women

"Most British people
don't have the first
inkling of what a crisis
is. They think it's
a political thing ..
Disaster .. happens to
other people, in other
places .. And if you've
ever lived in one of
those other places,
chances are you will
have seen how quickly
what you thought was
an orderly society
can disintegrate
under pressure."
David Bennun


Bank of England says no-deal
Brexit could unleash worst
recession since WW2 and
best deal is no Brexit


"If you look at this purely from
the economic point of view,
there will be a cost to leaving
the EU because there will
be impediments to trade."
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Philip Hammond

AR Ca 4% over 15 years,
ave £1100 per person
(HMG figs)

InSight 2
NASA InSight picture of Mars.
Its solar panels are open,
collecting sunlight to
recharge batteries


Tommy Robinson says the
Tory elites have betrayed
the Leaver masses: When
May's deal is voted down,
he and UKIP will push a
narrative of national

InSight 1
NASA InSight lander
touches down on Mars:
first surface image

EU gap

The Wall
MicroLED tech for pixels


2018 St Andrew's Day

American Influence

Edward Luce

A US president is trying to unseat a British prime minister. Donald Trump has handed the equivalent of a loaded gun to Theresa May's enemies. Trump said May's deal meant Britain could not strike a trade bargain with America.

Trump has deeper motives. His British friends are May's enemies: Nigel Farage, Arron Banks, and Boris Johnson. His best hope of breaking EU resistance is to strike a separate deal with a Britain desperate enough to agree.

British Influence

David Miliband

The UK has benefited time and time again from being inside the EU. Britain has been able to influence and frequently to lead the foreign policy of Europe. Brexit will reduce British influence and relegate Britain to a lesser role on the world stage.

President Trump has increased global instability. A UK outside the EU is far more likely to be a victim of this change than a beneficiary. Parliament should reject the Brexit deal and send the decision back to the people for a new referendum.

Electoral Influence

Jo Johnson, David Willetts, Justine Greening

JJ Brexit is seen as a project driven by the Conservative party. This half-baked, worst-of-all-worlds Brexit could trigger an electoral defeat on the scale of 1997. It would taint the party name for years to come and lead to communist ideologues coming to power in the UK. Unionists across the four nations of the UK are right to be worried.

DW When we came into government in 1979 and again in 2010 we sorted out a mess. Now we're in danger of imposing declining living standards on the British people. The Conservative party will have to take responsibility for that. Brexit jeopardises the future of the party, which depends on the votes of younger people.

JG I'm backing a people's vote. The country is tired of backroom deals. It's incredible to see May touring the country and talking to people she didn't want to give a vote to.

Xenophobic Influence

Peter Müller, Jörg Schindler

Brits are angry. People on the continent are watching with astonishment. A once-respected country is humiliating itself and its political class has become a laughing stock.

Brexit is a tragicomedy of errors:

1 It will be so easy: Boris Johnson spoke of a country that had sold its soul to Europe and lost its global stature, of Brussels hucksters who tied down the former empire with red tape, of how the UK would thrive once it broke free. He did not seriously expect to win the Brexit referendum.

2 Set bold red lines: In January 2017, Theresa May was a popular prime minister. She spoke of how she imagined Brexit. She said the UK would leave the single market, the customs union, and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The number of immigrants would be cut sharply.

3 Get a bigger majority: May called a snap election for the spring of 2017. Her plan was to win big. But after an abysmal campaign, she lost her authority and her party its majority. From that point on, each step toward Brexit was torture. And there was no other prime minister in sight.

4 Split Europe: Boris Johnson thought the Germans would help Britain out. When London negotiators were blocked by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, they tried to bypass him and reach out to the French, the Poles, and then Berlin. Brexiteers believed the German car industry would ride to the rescue. It didn't.

5 Ignore Ireland: Some thought the Irish would follow the UK lead and leave the EU. Michel Barnier visited Ireland and saw Brexit is a question of war and peace. He said there can be no withdrawal agreement without a backstop. It was his red line. In December 2017, May accepted EU proposals for the softest Brexit possible.

In the end, May put UK unity before Brexiteer fantasies. She will present her deal to parliament for a vote on December 11 but looks certain to lose. Following the vote, the markets and the pound will plunge and the UK will teeter on the cliff edge. The kamikaze plan is that panic will break out and May will prevail.

The battle of Brexit has poisoned the UK.

2018 November 29

Climate Change

Donald Trump

One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we're not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it's right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you're talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.


Sam Kean

Jupiter is almost a star. If it had been ten times more massive, it would have become a brown dwarf. Our solar system would have been a binary system.

Jupiter cooled down below the threshold for nuclear fusion. But its heat and mass and pressure were enough to form huge diamonds and oily hydrogen metal. Its dynamic magnetic field may best be explained by an ocean of liquid hydrogen 40 Mm deep.

Jupiter should have the same basic elemental composition as a star: 90% hydrogen, 10% helium, and small traces of other elements such as neon. But a quarter of the He and 90% of the Ne are missing from the outer atmosphere. Because the planet lacks a nuclear furnace, the He and Ne churning in the stormy outer layers fall inward under gravity.

Some way down, the intense pressure crushes the gases into liquids. The falling droplets of He and Ne heat up and glow with fluorescent colors. A robot flying near the ocean surface might look up into the cream and orange Jovian sky and see a spectacular light show, with curtains of brilliant crimson falling as neon rain.

2018 November 28

UK−US Trade Deal

Woody Johnson

President Trump says Brexit is for the British people to decide. But he hopes there will be room for an ambitious trade deal with the United States.

The United States is ready to get straight to work. Britain is the perfect trading partner for the United States. We are both countries at the top of our game when it comes to business, science, and innovation.

Britain and America share the same attitude toward trade. We believe in playing fair and sticking to the rules. We don't need to prop up our businesses or tax out their competition. Our companies are the best of the best.

We are the perfect partners. Together, we have the chance to set an example of fair, free and reciprocal, win-win trade. And we need to set that example. EU protectionism against American farmers and business is a case in point.

President Trump has wanted that for as long as I've known him. If Britain takes back control of its trade policy, you will be at the head of the line.

AR Too vainglorious. Any US-UK axis would be led from the US end. And a weakened EU27 would turn to Russia and China. In a confrontation between USUKA and EUSSR, the English Channel would be a moat between two fortresses.

Dialectics of Darkness

Egil Asprem

The Myth of Disenchantment, by Jason Josephson-Storm, is an account of how scholars came to associate the creation of modernity with the withdrawal from magical beliefs.

To historians of science, natural magic was just the empirical and practical side of natural philosophy. The new human sciences said natural philosophy reduced the world of primitive humanity to mechanism. The departure of the gods soon became a powerful myth.

Folktales were awash with this theme. Folklorists even have a classification code for the departure of the fairies: Motif F388. That fairies were once plentiful, but have since gone into hiding, is one of the oldest and most widespread European folktales.

Max Weber connected modernity and disenchantment to shifting views on salvation. Salvific behavior was reoriented from external ritual and symbolism to individual ethical conduct and care of the self. Disenchantment has been a theme in Western history as far back as the Christian claim that Jesus silenced the pagan oracles.

Josephson-Storm says the modern West is still haunted by enchantments.

AR Free will, the sanctity of life, free markets, world domination, the victory of good.

2018 November 27

Mars InSight

New Scientist

The NASA Mars InSight mission will explore the Martian interior. For the landing, InSight recycled the method that worked for the Phoenix polar lander in 2008. But this time, we had a real-time stream of data relayed by a pair of cubesats together known as Mars Cube One (MarCO) that were packed with InSight since its launch in May 2018.

MarCO A and B were configured to observe and report at the same time. The cubesats delivered the first photograph taken by InSight from the surface of Mars. But without fuel and engines, the pair are hurtling past Mars and will soon be out of range. The NASA team will now assess the spacecraft's health, ensure all the instruments are functional, and see where exactly InSight landed.

InSight will unpack a seismometer to detect tiny vibrations, a heat flow probe that will burrow underground, a weather station, and a radio experiment to detect motion within the molten Martian core. They will help determine the thicknesses and materials of the interior layers and how much heat the planet has now. We will improve our understanding of how rocky planets form and of how Mars compares with Earth.

Cold Turkey


President Donald Trump on Monday dismissed a study produced by his own administration, involving 13 federal agencies and more than 300 leading climate scientists, warning of the potentially catastrophic impact of climate change.
"I don't believe it," he told reporters.
Why? It was cold on Thanksgiving. For Trump, anecdotes = data.

 "Throughout the world, CNN has a powerful voice portraying the United States in an unfair and false way. Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!"

 "Sounds like a great deal for the EU. I think we have to take a look at seriously whether or not the UK is allowed to trade because right now if you look at the deal they may not be able to trade with us, and that wouldn't be a good thing. I don't think they meant that. I don't think that the prime minister meant that and hopefully she'll be able to do something about that. But right now as the deal stands they may not be able to trade with the US and I don't think they want that at all — that would be a very big negative for the deal."

AR The Tweeter-in-Chief/Shouter-in-Chief — a twit or a twatoder ein Trottel.

Kaiser Wilhelm

Miranda Carter

Kaiser Wilhelm II had a talent for causing outrage. He was convinced he was brilliant at personal diplomacy, but he viewed other people in instrumental terms, was a compulsive liar, and seemed to have a limited understanding of cause and effect.

Kaiser Wilhelm was Queen Victoria's first grandchild. He ruled Germany from 1888 to 1918 and led Germany into World War I. He was determined to be seen as tough and powerful, fetishized the army, surrounded himself with generals, owned 120 military uniforms, and cultivated a special severe facial expression for public occasions and photographs.

Wilhelm read very little apart from newspaper cuttings. He wrote hardly anything apart from marginalia on reports, and liked talks to be quickly over and done with. His entourage compiled press cuttings for him, mostly about himself, which he read obsessively. He was deeply suggestible and would defer to the last person he'd spoken to or cutting he'd read.

Kaiser Wilhelm asserted his authority unpredictably, as if to prove he was still in charge, staging rogue interventions into policy and sacking ministers without warning. His staff and ministers resorted to manipulation, distraction, and flattery to manage him. Philipp zu Eulenburg: "In order to get him to accept an idea you must act as if the idea were his."

The Kaiser was a narcissist in control of a global power. His posturing raised tensions in Europe. His clumsy personal diplomacy created suspicion. His alliance with the vitriolic right and his slavish admiration for the army inched the country closer and closer to war. Once the war was actually upon him, the government and military effectively swept him aside.

The lesson of Kaiser Wilhelm II is that President Trump may cause problems.

AR The Kaiser had a withered arm. Trump has a withered soul.

Norway Plus

Nick Boles

Norway Plus involves accepting Theresa May's withdrawal agreement in full but renegotiating the political declaration to specify that after the transition the UK will join EFTA. The UK then remains in a customs union until the arrangements are agreed.

Norway Plus lets the UK stay inside the single market but outside the jurisdiction of the ECJ, outside the common agricultural and fisheries policies, and no longer bound by the EU drive toward ever closer union.

EEA Article 112 states that "if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties .. are arising" unilateral action can be taken on a temporary basis to restrict freedom of movement.

AR I could live with that.

2018 November 26

Einstein's God

Jim Baggott

Albert Einstein was a realist. He accepted the content of a scientific theory as a true representation of an objective physical reality.

Einstein: "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

Einstein's God is determinist. His lawful harmony is established in the cosmos by cause and effect: "Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control .. we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player."

Einstein did not accept the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. Niels Bohr: "There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."

Bohr and Einstein clashed. What we can say in quantum mechanics is probabilistic. Einstein's God did not play dice.

AR There is a definite reality, good. But why should we be able to predict it?

2018 November 25

Breaking Brexit: A Deal

Donald Tusk

EU27 has endorsed the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on future EU-UK relations.

Battle of Brexit


Theresa May appeals directly to the nation to back her Brexit deal. She knows she faces defeat when the deal comes before the Commons next month.

From her open letter to the British people: "We will then begin a new chapter in our national life. I want that to be a moment of renewal and reconciliation for our whole country .. we need to get on with Brexit now by getting behind this deal."

EU Council president Donald Tusk: "No one has reasons to be happy. But we were all looking for a good and fair agreement. And I believe we have finally found the best possible compromise."

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez raised Gibraltar but pressure from other EU leaders persuaded him not to boycott the summit. He said the UK had provided "sufficient guarantees to reach a solution" when the UK promised that a future EU-UK trade treaty would not automatically apply to Gibraltar.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson spoke at the DUP annual conference in Belfast. The DUP MPs say they will not back May unless she scraps proposals to align Northern Ireland with EU rules after Brexit.

May: "From my first day in the job, I knew I had a clear mission before me — a duty to honour the result of the referendum .. I have never lost sight of that duty."

Three Votes to Victory

1 D-Day for the PM is the Commons "meaningful vote" on her deal on December 11.
  If she wins, the UK leaves the EU on March 29 and she stays on as PM until 2022.
  If she loses, Labour tables a vote of no confidence.
  If she loses again, a general election is held in January.

2 If May survives all this, she may cling on for a second vote.
  If she wins, the UK leaves the EU on March 29 and she stays on as PM until 2022.
  If she loses, she may resign rather than face another round of confidence votes.
  The chancellor becomes interim PM while Conservatives hold a leadership contest.

3 Having rejected May's Brexit deal, MPs would decide what to do next.
  They could decide on no deal or no Brexit, but this is unlikely.
  They could vote to withdraw Article 50 while a new strategy is worked out.
  A second referendum is then the most likely outcome.

AR Rage against the dying of the light.

2018 November 24

Sterile Neutrinos

Abigail Beall

A sterile neutrino could solve some old puzzles and give us a glimpse of new physics.

When an atomic nucleus undergoes beta decay, it leaves a daughter nucleus and emits an electron. The two decay products violate conservation of momentum unless an invisible particle — a neutrino — carries off the momentum. We now think neutrinos come in three flavors, corresponding to the electron, the muon, and the tau. These three neutrinos slot neatly into the standard model.

The Sun is a nuclear fusion reactor powered by beta decays. But the flux of electron neutrinos reaching Earth shows a major shortfall, so it seems the standard model is incomplete. If each neutrino had a tiny mass, it would oscillate between flavors in flight, and electron neutrinos from the Sun could morph into muon or tau neutrinos, evading our detectors.

Other anomalies remain. The antimatter versions of muon neutrinos oscillate into electron anti-neutrinos faster than expected. And radioactive decays within nuclear reactors are a strong source of neutrinos, but we detect fewer electron antineutrinos than the standard model predicts.

Perhaps a fourth, sterile flavor of neutrino can morph into any of the other three. Then an excess of electron neutrinos arises from the decay of sterile neutrinos. And the reactor experiments found too few electron neutrinos because they had decayed into sterile neutrinos.

Neutrino masses are tiny, less than 1 eV. A heavier fourth neutrino and a process known as the seesaw mechanism can explain this. Experimentalists are exploring neutrino oscillation.

Sabine Hossenfelder: "You get the impression we are missing something here."

Blinking Quasars

Shannon Hall

An image made in 2000 resembled a classic quasar. A second image made in 2010 showed the quasar at one tenth its former brightness and with different peaks. The quasar seemed to have shut down in less than 10 years.

Astronomers discovered 50 to 100 more "changing-look" quasars. But a quasar's accretion disk can stretch out for light years. To turn the quasar off, all of that material would have to swirl inward and fall onto the central black hole.

In 2017, astronomers viewed multiple changing-look quasars in both visible and infrared light to see not only each quasar's accretion disk but also the torus of dust clouds that wraps around the accretion disk. They saw changes in the accretion disk echoing within the torus.

Studies found evidence that the accretion disk changes its shape. In an echo, the ultraviolet and blue colors fell away first, followed by green and finally red. A cooling front swept out from the super-massive black hole so fast that red colors dropped only a year after green. The speed hints at the structure of the disk.

Changing-look quasars offer an opportunity to better understand how galaxies evolve. The mass of a supermassive black hole is tightly correlated with the mass of the galaxy around it. Astronomers suspect that quasars can wreak havoc on their host galaxy.

In about five billion years from now, the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy will collide, likely sparking a new quasar.

Little Mix

Photo: Rankin
Little Mix pose naked in the name of feminism to promote their single Strip (2:27)

Stratospheric aerosol
injection could cut
the rate of global
warming in half

"The theory of mind we carry
around with us and use every
day has no basis in what
neuroscience tells us about
how the brain works."
Alex Rosenberg

"Britain is now in panic mode,
held hostage by a foolish plan
gone really really bad."
Mimi Mollica

A team has flown an aircraft
with no moving parts. Steered
via radio control, it flew 55 m
with ion streams for thrust.
It weighs 2.45 kg and is
more efficient than
a standard jet.

"I am dynamite!"

Arm, aber frei

Mit trotziger Unbeugsamkeit
haben die Briten der EU den
Stinkefinger gezeigt

Crooked IT
Washington Post

Ivanka Trump used a
personal email account
to send hundreds of
emails about govern-
ment business.

AR Lock her up!

Merkel, Macron
"France loves you"
President Macron proposes
marriage to Germany
in the Bundestag

China stats
World Bank
China has lifted 800 million
people out of poverty. The
Chinese are now among
the most optimistic
people in the world


US Climate Report

The New York Times

A major scientific report issued by US federal agencies presents a stark warning on the impact of climate change for the United States. The 1,656-page report is notable for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions as it lays out the effects of a changing climate on the economy, health, and environment. Climate change could slash up to a tenth of GDP by 2100.

The report is the second volume of the National Climate Assessment, which the federal government is required by law to produce every four years. The first volume was issued by the White House last year. It puts the most precise price tags to date on the cost to the US economy of projected climate impacts: $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise, and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century.

Climate change is taking us into uncharted territory. The authors offer three main solutions: putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions, establishing government regulations on how much greenhouse pollution can be emitted, and spending public money on clean energy research.

2018 November 23

Battle of Brexit

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May: "The British people want Brexit settled. They want us to come together as a country and to move on to focus on the big issues at home."

The challenge of forcing the deal through the Commons next month was exposed in a long and bruising debate during which May was attacked from all sides.

A Second Referendum
Vernon Bogdanor

If the UK and the EU sign the withdrawal agreement and the declaration on the future relationship, it must then be ratified by both the European and Westminster parliaments.

MPs will get a meaningful vote. They must approve the deal on a motion and then legislate to ratify the withdrawal agreement. Substantive amendments would be equivalent to rejection.

If any amendments were to be carried against the government, the prime minister would have little option but to resign. There would then be an election for a new Conservative leader.

Many MPs favour a people's vote. The Electoral Commission says there should be a 6-month run-up to the referendum. Britain would have to seek an extension of the Brexit deadline.

UK Facing Long Fall

The Independent

The UK is on course for the longest period of falling living standards since records began, leaving the economy £42 billion smaller in 2022 than expected. Resolution Foundation director Torsten Bell: "Yesterday the OBR handed down the mother of all economic downgrades."

AR Better hang on in the EU.

2018 November 22

Brexit Deal

Theresa May, UCT 1240

The EU and UK have agreed a draft political declaration on their future relationship, paving the way for a Brexit deal to be agreed on Sunday.

AR Now May must face the Battle of the Commons.

Leaked draft of the political declaration
A few quotes:
 The Parties are agreed that the future relationship should be approached with high ambition
    with regard to its scope and depth, and recognise that this might evolve over time.
 The Parties envisage having a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible ..
 The economic partnership should ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions
    across all sectors ..
 The Parties will put in place ambitious customs arrangements .. making use of all available
    facilitative arrangements and technologies ..
 Such facilitative arrangements and technologies will also be considered in developing any
    alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland ..
 Both Parties will have equivalence frameworks in place that allow them to declare a third
    country's regulatory and supervisory regimes equivalent for relevant purposes ..
 The future relationship must ensure open and fair competition ..
 Both Parties should preserve their respective strategic autonomy and freedom of action ..

China and the West

Gerard Baker

American global hegemony is a fact of life. The rise of challengers such as China seems shockingly modern. But Western dominance may come to be seen as an aberration and the rise of China and other Asian nations as a reversion to the natural order of things.

From the birth of Christ until 1820, China and India accounted for the lion's share of global economic output. Only since the Napoleonic wars have Europe and America eclipsed the East. Three hundred years ago, China accounted for about one third of global economic output. If China restores its global economic share to one third, it will give China twice the economic heft of America.

The Asian economies have learnt from the West. The triumph of reason let the West leap ahead of an East still held back by religion. But the West has made big mistakes.

Britain and Europe

Simon Jenkins

Britannia was part of the Roman empire for four centuries before that empire disintegrated. Two centuries later, in 664 CE, England voted to rejoin the European union of the Roman Catholic church. In 1534, Henry VIII pulled out, and England stayed out of the European wars of religion.

Then in 1704, England plunged into war against France. After 1713, the British lost interest in Europe until they was drawn into war against Napoleon. In 1815, Britain helped found the Concert of Europe. The British empire then took priority, and Lord Salisbury declared a policy of splendid isolation.

In 1914, Britain was drawn into a great war over Belgium. By helping France and punishing Germany, Britain ensured the outcome was a second world war. After 1945, Britain engaged in NATO.

Britain declined to join the Common Market in 1957, but changed its mind and joined in 1973. The Maastricht treaty in 1992 upset a delicate equilibrium. The UK declined to join the eurozone and the EU social chapter. The slope was now downhill to 2016, when Britain turned away again.

History suggests the EU could evolve into a new Holy Roman Empire. The old Holy Roman Empire endured for a thousand years and gave Europe a splendid civilization. You can take the UK out of the EU but you can never take Britain out of Europe.

2018 November 21

Quantum Behavior in Strange Metals

Natalie Wolchover

A large class of superconducting materials follow an unknown organizing principle that governs the collective behavior of particles and determines how they spread energy and information.

Electrons inside ceramic crystals such as cuprates seem to dissipate energy as quickly as possible, subject to a quantum speed limit. Other exotic superconductors also burn energy at what appears to be a maximum allowed rate set by Planck's constant.

This behavior occurs when the exotic materials are in a strange metal phase, in which they resist the flow of electricity more than conventional metals. When cooled to a critical temperature, these strange metals become superconductors.

The electrons may occupy a scrambled quantum state in which the properties of each electron depend on those of every other. This state of maximal quantum entanglement may let the electrons scatter off each other and spread energy as quickly as possible.

In 1986, when Georg Bednorz and Alex Müller discovered high-temperature superconductivity, they found that near the critical temperature their cuprate crystal's electrical resistance decreased linearly with falling temperature. Such linear resistivity shows up in other materials too before the onset of superconductivity. The straight line relating the electron scattering rate to temperature has a slope set by Planck's constant.

This Planckian dissipation may arise because electrons in these materials hit a quantum speed limit on how fast they can dissipate energy. Perhaps electrons in strange metals are dissipating as fast as they can consistent with the uncertainty principle. The electrons have energy proportional to temperature, dissipation takes time, and time and energy do not commute.

Theorists are attacking the problem using a holographic duality that mathematically connects systems of scrambled quantum particles to imaginary black holes in one higher dimension. Maybe black holes and strange metals go to extremes in a common way.

AR I was working at Springer when Bednorz and Müller won the 1987 Nobel prize in physics — it was very exciting for us.

2018 November 20

A New Consensus

Justine Greening

Theresa May's deal is the worst of all worlds. I have a proposal.

There are three practical Brexit options:
 We can leave the EU with the deal May has negotiated
 We can keep our current deal by remaining in the EU
 We can leave on WTO no-deal terms

By giving the public a first and second preference vote, people can find a consensus.
It can work, it's fair, and it can deliver a clear voting majority on the way forward.

Let people have a say on the way forward.

UK Immigration

The Thunderer

Theresa May saw the Brexit referendum result as an endorsement for her tough stance on immigration. She will stop free movement between Britain and Europe and yesterday promised the CBI a new immigration system. But free movement has been good for business.

During her years as home secretary, May unleashed a hostile environment for immigrants. She set minimum-income rules for Britons bringing in spouses from abroad. She asked doctors, landlords, and businesses to inform on immigrants. She ran ads telling illegal migrants to "Go Home".

The visa system for traders and tourists has become so expensive and unfriendly that many will not bother trying to visit the UK again.

Bad Business

Michael Skapinker

The UK business class has finally taken a position. The CBI is backing prime minister Theresa May and her EU withdrawal agreement. Its leaders are pleased that the agreement keeps the UK position unchanged during the transition period until the end of 2020.

Business has helped in pointing to the disruption that a no-deal exit would bring and in highlighting the importance of immigration to the UK economy. But it was reluctant to spell this out during the referendum and it is backing a losing proposition now.

Business leaders
 do not generally have great or deep insight into current affairs
 are too timid and are reluctant to upset their customers
 are focused on the transition period and not yet much further
 sometimes misplace their moral compasses
 are not democratically accountable

The political class may have failed us, but business leaders cannot do better.

Annus Horribilis

The Times

The worst year to have been alive may have been 536 CE. Analysis of pollutants in ice from an alpine glacier suggests a volcanic eruption in Iceland spread ash across the northern hemisphere early in the year, causing crops to fail from Scandinavia to Mesopotamia.

Roman historian Procopius: "The sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year."

Two more big eruptions followed in 540 and 547. In 541, bubonic plague — the Plague of Justinian — broke out and went on to kill half of the population of the Byzantine Empire. The western Roman Empire was gone, and in Britannia civic order fell apart.

Things went from bad to worse until 622 CE, Year One of Islam.

2018 November 19

Brexit and Trump

Carole Cadwalladr

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is known to his friend The Donald as Mr Brexit. Farage, Arron Banks, and Andy Wigmore call themselves the Bad Boys of Brexit.

I asked Wigmore about the work Cambridge Analytica (CA) did for both Trump and Brexit in 2016: "Cambridge Analytica did work for us, yes. We just didn't pay them. They were happy to help." He explained that Farage was close with the CA VP Steve Bannon.

Brexit and Trump are entangled. Special counsel Robert Mueller has identified the Russian ambassador to London as a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Arron Banks married a Russian woman named Katya. She had been close to Mike Hancock MP. British security warned Hancock that he was a target for Russian intelligence.

Banks joked about Katya being a spy. He told me about his lunch with the Russian ambassador in the months before the referendum and added: "Not a single penny of Russian money went into Brexit."

Banks has business interests in insurance and diamond mines in Africa. All his wealth, he says, was generated in Britain, and his company Rock Services donated £8 million to the Leave.EU campaign.

Banks had multiple meetings with the Russian ambassador and Russian officials in early 2016. On the day Leave.EU held its press launch, Banks and Wigmore visited the Russian embassy and were offered chances to buy a group of gold mines plus stakes in a diamond company.

Britain carries on regardless, transfixed by Brexit.

Trump vs China

Gideon Rachman

Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping will meet at the G20 summit in Argentina.

The hawks in Washington are actively pushing for a long confrontation with China. They want to persuade Japan and South Korea to let America deploy short-range nuclear missiles in the region. The doves want to see the current trade tensions swiftly resolved.

Trump has already gone further than any other US president in confronting China, slapping tariffs on almost half of Chinese exports to the US and stepping up naval patrols through disputed waters in the Pacific. But he is also volatile and claims to like Xi.

With Trump as president all bets are off.


The New York Times

The Chinese economy has grown up. China now leads the world in the number of homeowners, internet users, college graduates, and billionaires. It has become the most significant rival to the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union.

President Xi Jinping is pushing a more assertive agenda. The Trump administration has launched a trade war and is gearing up for what could be a new Cold War. Xi is considering how to pull ahead of the West against American hostility.

The People's Republic of China has surpassed the Soviet Union in longevity. Chinese Communists studied the fate of their old allies in Moscow to learn from their mistakes. They decided the party had to embrace reform but not democracy.

Bureaucrats who were once obstacles to growth became engines of growth. Officials devoted to class warfare and price controls began chasing investment and promoting private enterprise. It was an act of reinvention that eluded the Soviets.

China sent generations of young party officials to the United States and elsewhere to study how modern economies worked. They enrolled in universities, they found jobs, and they went on study tours. When they returned, the party promoted them.

The party invested in education, expanded access to schools and universities, and all but eliminated illiteracy. Mainland China now produces more science and engineering graduates every year than the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan combined.

China tapped into a wave of globalization and emerged as the world's factory. The question now is whether it can sustain this model with the United States as an adversary.

AR I hope and trust the Chinese will improve on AA civilization.

NATO, Poland

NATO exercise Anakonda 18, Poland


Latest UK voting intentions


NATO In Poland

William Cook

Anakonda 18 is Poland's biggest NATO exercise. It features 17,500 soldiers from 10 NATO members: 12,500 in Poland and 5,000 more in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This is the site of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence.

America remains the backbone of NATO, but after years of cutbacks European countries and Canada are finally stepping up their financial commitments. During the last two years these countries have found an extra $41 billion for defense.

Poles and Germans are united as allies and trading partners. The European Union has done a lot to realize that reconciliation. But it was made possible by NATO and exercises like Anakonda 18.

2018 November 18


Immanuel Kant, 1784

Dare to understand! [sapere aude]

AR Cited by Steven Pinker in his book Enlightenment Now.

Battle of Brexit

Mail on Sunday

Theresa May today told her warring Conservative MPs a change in leadership will only help those who want to thwart Brexit.

AR Bring it on!

Trump and Brexit

Jane Mayer

Observers speculate that the Brexit campaign in the UK served as a test rig for Donald Trump's US presidential campaign. New evidence shows Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica (CA) incubated both campaigns in 2015.

In October 2015, Bannon was the VP of CA. The following month, Leave.EU launched its campaign for Brexit. Bannon is cited in mails between a CA director and Leave.EU campaigner Arron Banks.

Foreign contributions to US and UK political campaigns are forbidden by law. CA denies it was paid to work for the Leave.EU campaign. The mails show Banks and others met with CA executives in 2015.

British investigations parallel the Mueller investigation of possible Russian support for Trump's 2016 campaign. Banks spent some £9 million supporting the Brexit campaign. Both UK and US investigators have looked at links between Banks and the Russian ambassador to the UK. They are also looking at the role of Trump ally and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

AR Annul the referendum result.

The Dark Heart of Brexit

Volker Zastrow

Approval of the EU is higher than ever: 51% of its citizens want to stay in it, 34% to leave. The EU is a tool of political balance in which everyone gets something from it. The collateral benefit of this balance is peace.

Two peoples in the world attribute to their own nation a grotesquely disproportionate influence on world history: Brits and Russians. The reason is probably that Russia and Britain were the last great imperial powers.

The British conservative upper class forms the hard core of resistance to the EU. This class includes few convinced supporters of the European project. Most are reluctant, only forced to join in 1972 for economic reasons.

Brits brought with them an obsession with accounting that distinguished between net payers and net recipients, winners and losers. But the idea behind the EU is that no one profits at the expense of others, so everyone wins, as in every good marriage, family, neighborhood, or working community. Without this idea it fails.

The British have taken a critical view of the EU. They aim to destroy it and restore the disorder in which we all seek to outdo one another in good, bad, or cunning ways.

AR An accountant is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

We Will Not Be Bullied

Dominic Raab

The UK got close to an acceptable deal with the EU. But we cannot now exit the backstop without the EU exercising a veto and that could be years down the line. It's the worst of all worlds.

What's missing is political will and resolve. We must be willing to say that if we cannot close this deal on reasonable terms, we will not be bribed and blackmailed or bullied and we will walk away.

This isn't Dunkirk. The short-term risks of disruption can be managed — but they can't be eliminated. We need to be honest about that.

AR Raab is the son of a Czech Jewish refugee from the Nazis, who went to grammar school and read law at Oxford and Cambridge. He became as an MP in 2010 and a minister in 2015. Now 44, he also has a black belt in karate.

Give The People A Say

The Observer

The reality of Brexit is finally clear. Theresa May's withdrawal agreement brings into sharp focus the colossal cost of embracing the Brexiteer delusion of taking back control.

The agreement is probably the best Britain could get, but it offers the economics of the madhouse. If this is taking back control, it is a cruel joke. This Brexit will leave Britain vastly diminished.

Virtually all the major challenges faced by developed nations are global and will be solved only with global collaboration. The EU is far from perfect, but it is by far the most successful model for regional cooperation. For the UK to leave it is lunacy.

There is no such thing as a clean break from the EU that respects both the integrity of the UK and the Good Friday agreement. The Brexiteers have abdicated all responsibility for achieving their dream. They are unable to put forward a vision or a plan.

The chances of getting the deal through parliament look tiny. A new referendum is the only way out of political gridlock. The choice is between staying in the EU or May's lose-lose deal.

There is a good case for a vote: we now know the terms of exit and there are huge unforeseen costs. The Brexit tragedy is not inevitable. Give the people a say.

AR May has done us all a service in exposing the Brexiteer delusion.

Christ Church Oxford

Harriet Sherwood

Christ Church is a college in the University of Oxford and a pillar of the establishment. It educated 13 British prime ministers, 10 chancellors of the exchequer, and 17 archbishops. King Edward VII was a student there, Albert Einstein was a visitor there, and Lewis Carroll was a fellow there.

Last week, the dean of its college and cathedral, the Very Rev Martyn Percy, was suspended after being challenged under archaic and opaque rules concerning issues of governance. His supporters say he wanted to modernise the college management and his opponents want to preserve their traditional privileges in a medieval fiefdom.

Percy is said to be deeply distressed by the complaint and has had to hire lawyers for a tribunal. A university statement described him as a widely respected member of the university community. An online drive has raised more than £37,000 to help with his legal bills.

AR Oxford needs deep reform, just like the entire British establishment.

Beach, Saturday

Canford Cliffs beach, Saturday

Extinction Rebellion
Save the Humans

Paradise, CA

Theresa Mays Kabinett hat
dem Entwurf zugestimmt, nun
muss das britische Parlament
zustimmen, dann auch alle
EU-Mitgliedsstaaten und
das Europaparlament

English fantasy

Donald Tusk
Donald Tusk holds
"lose-lose" deal

Michel Barnier
Michel Barnier reads his deal

Charles, Camilla
Prince Charles and Camilla
set off to celebrate his
70th birthday bash at
Buckingham Palace
this evening

EU man, UK

Merkel, Macron
Merkel, Macron


2018 November 17

Climate Rebellion

The Guardian

London, Saturday — Thousands of demonstrators occupied five Thames bridges to protest at the looming climate crisis. It was one of the biggest acts of civil disobedience in the UK in decades. The demonstrators moved to Westminster for speeches about environmental destruction.

The action is part of a campaign of mass civil disobedience organised by Extinction Rebellion, which aims to force governments to treat the threats of climate breakdown and extinction as a crisis.

Green party peer Jenny Jones: "If we don't start acting and acting fast we are just going to wipe out our life support system .. Basically conventional politics has failed us."

Extinction Rebellion

We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. We demand that our government:
 Tell the truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency,
 Enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions and consumption levels,
 Create a democracy fit for purpose, including a national citizen's assembly.

AR Greens need to calm down.

Future War

Katrina Manson

World War 3 will be fought by robots. A senior US national security official: "We've been occupied by fighting low-tech conflict against people who lob rockets out the back of trucks, and all along China has got savvy and crept up on us. That's now our focus."

US defense secretary Jim Mattis warns that America is losing its military edge in every domain of warfare. Rather than accommodate China's rise, Washington still largely believes in domination. The US military machine remains far and away the most powerfully equipped fighting force in the world, and public martial spirit is strong.

Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to build a world-class military by 2049, the centenary of Communist party rule. In October 2018, clad in camouflage, he told his commanders to prepare for war. A battle for regional hegemony over Taiwan or the South China Sea could trigger WW3.

China has developed stealth fighter jets and put missiles and bombers on a string of artificial islands in the South China Sea. US military bases in the Pacific, from Guam to Japan to Hawaii, would find it hard to mount a successful attack on the Chinese mainland. China would use its fortified island bases as aircraft carriers and quickly seize the upper hand in a war.

Like Clausewitz, Mattis sees uncertainty and fear as essential ingredients of war: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet." He points to China's aggressive authoritarian streak: "There's going to be a discipline."

Pentagon chief technical officer and former NASA head Michael Griffin is tasked with bringing the US war machine into the next age. DARPA was founded after the Soviets orbited Sputnik in 1957 and went on to invent the precursor to the internet. Griffin: "They're focused on what is the best and most innovative thing that can be done with the physics and technology that we have."

Former US deputy defense secretary Bob Work: "The future battlefield is going to be extraordinarily lethal and the tempo will be 24 hours a day, all day, all weather, just no rest. It's going to be our AI against their AI. One side is going to get inside the command system and shut down everything."

Mattis: "They're fusing all the advances together, from intel input and observation and missiles and everything .. Each war is unique."

Poverty in the UK

Philip Alston

The UK contains many areas of immense wealth, yet many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who sees the growth in food banks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the despair that leads the government to appoint a minister for suicide prevention, and reports of loneliness and isolation.

Local authorities that perform vital roles in providing a social safety net have been gutted by government policies. Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, and public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.

A fifth of the UK population, 14 million people, live in poverty: 4 million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The IFS predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. This is a disgrace, a calamity, and disaster.


Philip Aldrick

Britain has blundered into Brexit with no preparation at all. There is no Brexit option that leaves the UK better off economically. With hindsight, we'd stop Brexit now, bank the knowledge we've gained and start again.

Dead Parrot


The Brexit deal is dead. Labour and the Remain-backing parties will vote against it. The DUP will vote against it. The hard Brexiteers will vote against it. Many Tory Remainers will vote against it. And its political declaration is fudge.

Brexit takes back control for the EU alone. It reduces the UK to a mere lobbyist for its own economy. It has no advantage over the status quo by any conceivable metric. Even Brexiteers say it would be better to remain in the EU.

AR Monty Python as reality TV.

2018 November 16

Doubling Down

The Times

Theresa May at Downing Street last night: "I believe with every fibre of my being that the course I have set out is the right one for our country and all our people. Leadership is about taking the right decisions, not the easy ones. As prime minister my job is to bring back a deal that delivers on the vote of the British people."

On radio this morning: "Government policy is government policy."

Critical Showdown

Financial Times

May's Brexit deal is inferior to remaining in the EU while failing to deliver any of the benefits promised by ardent Brexiteers. But a no-deal exit remains the worst option.

Britain faces its most critical decisions since the second world war.

Britain and the Politics of Pain

Fintan O'Toole

"Instrument of Surrender .. the British Command to carry out at once, without argument or comment, all further orders that will be issued by the German Command on any subject."

Len Deighton's 1978 thriller SS-GB set up two ideas for Brexit: The Englishman as a new European under German domination and the vertiginous fall from heart of empire to occupied colony.

The Falklands war played out the invasion fantasy of SS-GB at a safe distance. The tiny population of the Falklands served as a metaphor for the UK. The Falkland Islands were a fantasy England with no black and brown immigrants and a rural terrain, an ideal version of the post-industrial landscape that Thatcher was creating in England.

Margaret Thatcher, 1982: "The lesson of the Falklands is that Britain has not changed and that this nation still has those sterling qualities which shine through our history. This generation can match their fathers and grandfathers in ability, in courage, and in resolution."

England was still stuck in fantasies of WW2. Kenneth Minogue, 1989: "The European institutions are attempting to create a European Union, in the tradition of the mediaeval popes, Charlemagne, Napoleon, the Kaiser and Adolf Hitler."

Robert Harris on his 1992 thriller Fatherland: "If there was one factor that suddenly gave my fantasy of a united Germany a harder edge, it was the news that exactly such an entity was unexpectedly returning to the heart of Europe."

German reunification was a great missed opportunity for the English. Anthony Barnett: "The triumph and relief of the unification of Germany could and should have belonged to us in Britain, as well as to Germany itself. It was .. a time to welcome a great culture back into our arms."

The idea of Europe as a soft-Nazi superstate is a product of England's troubled relationship to WW2. Britain was the winner that had been surpassed by the losers, who hated us because we saved them.

Boris Johnson, 2017: "The [European project is] an attempt not just at economic but political integration of a kind that the British people had never bargained for."

How Brexit Breaks Britain

Fintan O'Toole

The Brexit process is driven by two great unacknowledged contradictions. Brexit is powered by the slogan: "Take back control." But what is control and who takes it?

Another word for control is regulation. The fundamental appeal of Brexit is that the British have had too much regulation imposed from Brussels and want to regulate themselves. But the Brexiteers dream of completing the deregulating neoliberal project to create a global Britain that can unleash a new golden age of buccaneering capitalism.

Power will be returned to English nationalists. In reaction to devolution in the UK, the English people see their national identity not as British but as English. When asked whether the unravelling of the peace process in Ireland is a price worth paying for Brexit, 83% of Leave voters and 73% of Conservative voters in England say it is.

Ironically, the DUP holds the balance of power at Westminster. Theresa May now says: "I will always fight to strengthen and sustain this precious, precious Union."

AR Brexit is a pitiful symbol for the folly of nationalism.

2018 November 15

Battle of Brexit

BBC News, UCT 1750

UK prime minister Theresa May: "Full control of our borders by bringing an end to the free movement of people once and for all; full control of our money so we decide ourselves how to spend it on priorities like our NHS; full control of our laws by ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK; getting us out of the common agriculture policy and common fisheries policy for good. That is exactly what this agreement will deliver."

The Guardian, UCT 1343 ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg submits letter of no confidence in the PM.

BBC News, UCT 1203 Theresa May, House of Commons: "We've taken the decision to leave."

BBC News, UCT 1108 Theresa May, House of Commons: "We are making no plans for no Brexit."

The Guardian, UCT 1004 Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Esther McVey resigns.

The Guardian, UCT 0903 Brexit secretary Dominic Raab resigns, saying he cannot back May's deal.

Terrible Brexit deal unites UK in horror
Martin Wolf

UK prime minister Theresa May has united her deeply divided nation:
 Remainers say the deal would be far worse than continued EU membership.
 Leavers say the deal would be far worse than a clean break.
 The deal will not be ratified.
 Britain is in deep, deep crisis.

May deal under scrutiny
Financial Times

UK prime minister Theresa May said there was collective cabinet approval for her deal. Downing Street is now braced for resignations as the mood darkens over the Conservative party. Brexiteer MPs claim they had the 48 names needed to trigger a vote of no confidence in her premiership.

In a letter to EU Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker says decisive progress has been achieved in the Brexit talks. UK cabinet approval paves the way for formal approval of the Brexit treaty at a special European Council meeting on November 25.

The 585-page withdrawal treaty will now come under heavy political scrutiny.

Parliament should reject May's rotten Brexit deal
Philip Stephens

The deal negotiated by Theresa May's government is an expression of the balance of power between the UK and the EU. The withdrawal accord is a bad deal, a rotten deal that parliament should have no hesitation in rejecting. It would leave Britain markedly poorer, weaker in the pursuit of its national interests, and less secure.

The prime minister could never get an agreement as good as the one Britain enjoys as a full member of the bloc. The political statement accompanying the agreement is full of good intentions about forging a new partnership and allowing Britain to sit on the sidelines of discussions about foreign policy, defence, and antiterrorism. In truth, Britain will be granted influence only to the extent that it is ready to sign up again to the rules of the EU club.

The best option would see parliament back a referendum offering an informed choice between the status quo and what everyone can now see is available outside the EU. No one voted for the chaotic halfway house now proposed.

Final Say

Lizzy Buchan

The Independent's petition for fresh Brexit referendum is the most popular petition in the UK. More than a million people backed the call for a public vote on May's Brexit deal in just three months. says Brexit is dominating public opinion. Its new poll finds 85% of voters say they had been ignored over the Brexit strategy, and just 7.4% say they have been adequately consulted. surveyed more than 89,000 users in the UK between October 31 and November 5: 63% backed Remain, 25% voted Leave, and the remainder did not vote or chose not to say.

2018 November 14

Climate Forecast

Bill McKibben

The 2018 report by the IPCC set a target of 1.5 K for global warming. The pledges made by nations at the Paris conference in 2015 were not enough to meet the 2 K target. If every nation fulfilled those pledges, the global temperature would still rise by an intolerable 3.5 K.

Engineers have continued to make remarkable advances. The price per kW for solar or wind power has continued to plunge, so much so that these are now the cheapest sources of power across much of the globe. Renewable technology has been deployed widely in China and India.

The prospects for civilization have worsened since 2015. America has withdrawn from the Paris agreement and aims to revive the coal industry and deregulate the oil and gas business. A continued rise in global CO2 emissions suggests 2018 will set a new record for warming.

To keep warming under 1.5 K, those emissions will have to fall by almost half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The burden of climate change will be heaviest on the poorest nations. At 2 K, the report predicts a "disproportionately rapid evacuation" of people from the tropics.

The IPCC is a slave to consensus and almost certainly understates the problem. Scientists have agreed on a broad and workable summary of our peril. But even the politicians not controlled by the fossil fuel industry tend to propose changes too small and slow to make much difference.

AR The science is clear — action now.

American Dominance Eroded

Washington Post

The National Defense Strategy Commission, comprised of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration's 2018 National Defense Strategy and found:
 The United States has lost its military edge and could lose a war against China or Russia
 China and Russia are seeking regional dominance and an ability to project global military power
 The military balance has shifted adversely for the United States in Europe, Asia, and the Mideast
 The Pentagon should explain more fully how it plans to defeat its rivals in competition and war
 Despite a $716 billion US defense budget this year, the US defense effort is under-resourced
 Congress should look at the entire federal budget to put the nation on a stabler financial footing
 The US Navy should expand its submarine fleet and sealift forces
 The US Air Force should deploy more reconnaissance platforms and stealth fighters and bombers
 The US Army should pursue more armor, long-range precision missiles, air defense, and logistics
 Create new pilot programs aimed at breakthroughs to help retain American military dominance

AR America cannot win WW3. Negotiate global peace.

2018 November 13

Electronic Publishing

Guest speech by Andy Ross
Poole Rotary Club

EU Army

Der Spiegel

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel hat sich für die Idee einer europäischen Armee ausgesprochen. "Wir sollten an der Vision arbeiten, eines Tages auch eine echte europäische Armee zu schaffen", sagte sie in einer Rede im Europaparlament in Straßburg.

Die Zeiten, in denen Europa sich auf andere verlassen konnte, seien "schlicht vorbei", bekräftigte Merkel. "Alte Verbündete stellen bewährte Verbindungen in Frage. Eine gemeinsame europäische Armee würde der Welt zeigen, dass es zwischen den europäischen Ländern nie wieder Krieg gibt."

Merkel unterstützte damit einen Vorschlag von Frankreichs Staatschef Emmanuel Macron, der vergangene Woche erneut eine "echte europäische Armee" für mehr Unabhängigkeit von den USA ins Spiel gebracht hatte.

Rede-Ausschnitt (00:43)

AR Good idea.

Island Nation

The Times

Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated a remarkable ability to reach for the right words to match the solemnity of any diplomatic occasion. "Old demons are resurfacing," he warned.

The British government could have used this weekend's commemorations to send its own powerful signal of its continued commitment to the global rules-based system and its determination to play a leading role in defending it and Europe. Instead, Theresa May was conspicuous on Sunday only by her absence from the gathering of global leaders in Paris.

Britain cannot retreat into isolationism.

Brexit Draft Deal

BBC News

UK and EU officials have agreed the draft text of a Brexit agreement. A special cabinet meeting will be held 14:00 UCT Wednesday to seek ministerial backing. Leading Brexiteers urge rejection.

The way out of this shambles is a People's Vote
Jo Johnson

I voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. I did my best as a government minister to make a success of our departure from the EU. I now appeal to every Conservative to ask themselves if the choice being offered to us between vassalage and chaos can truly represent the national interest.

No one voted for a Brexit that would leave the UK with less control over its laws than it has within the EU. No one voted for a Brexit that will reduce market access for our services sector. No one voted for a Brexit where the big questions remain unresolved and negotiations go on for years.

An alternative to the shambles is unfolding in Westminster. Handing the final decision back to the people is the most democratic thing to do and the most practical way to solve this crisis. Support a People's Vote.

AR Jo Jo for PM.

2018 November 12


Emmanuel Macron

Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying "Our interests first — who cares about the others?", we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what makes it essential — its moral values.

Brexit Shambles

The Guardian

ThyssenKrupp UK chairman and CEO Terry Sargeant is a member of German Industry UK, representing 100 German companies in the UK:

"The impact of Brexit for multinationals is disruptive, and could lead to loss of business in Britain. In Germany, people look at this and are aghast at what is happening .. It is a complete shambles .. Once the UK leaves the customs union there will be barriers and possibly duties and tariffs to be paid. At the very least there will be paperwork .. I am passionate that we do what we can to stop the damage."

AR I am too — we have to live with this mess for a long time.


The New York Times

Yuval Noah Harari worries that Silicon Valley is undermining democracy, that the big tech companies are destroying free will, that the technological revolution is creating a tiny ruling class and a huge useless class.

Harari recently visited Silicon Valley. The more of a mess Washington becomes, the more interested the tech world is in creating something else. Mark Zuckerberg admires Caesar Augustus: "Basically, through a really harsh approach, he established 200 years of world peace."

Harari: "I've met a number of these high-tech giants, and generally they're good people. They're not Attila the Hun. In the lottery of human leaders, you could get far worse."

Dr Harari, 42, is a history professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He grew up near Haifa. His father worked in the arms industry. His mother worked in office administration. His husband Itzik Yahav is also his manager.

Harari says free will is an illusion and human rights are just a story we tell ourselves. Political parties and the liberal world order rely on fictions like "the customer is always right" and "follow your heart" that no longer work in the age of artificial intelligence: "If humans are hackable animals, and if our choices and opinions don't reflect our free will, what should the point of politics be?"

At first, English-language publishers were cool on the commercial viability of his big book Sapiens. Yahav persisted, eventually landing the agent Deborah Harris. One day when Harari was away meditating, Yahav and Harris sold it to Random House in London.

Today, Ridley Scott and documentarian Asif Kapadia are adapting Sapiens into a TV show.

In December, Harari will enter an ashram outside Mumbai for 60 days of silence.

AR See my essay The Prophet of Posthumanism.

WW1 graves

Boštjan Burger

Die blutige Bilanz des
Ersten Weltkriegs

They Shall Not Grow Old

Real WW1 shock-doc:
a groundbreaking

AR Gripping, obscene,
like being there
in the mud

White poppy
White Poppies
Peace Pledge Union

People wish to remember
victims of war by working
for peace. They resist
nationalistic agendas that
confine remembrance to
the British armed forces.

White poppies represent
remembrance for all victims
of war of all nationalities,
a commitment to peace
and a rejection of

Prince Charles, 70 next week:
"There's only room for one
sovereign at a time."



Oumuamua was discovered
by a star survey in 2017.
Its exact trajectory has an
excess radial acceleration,
as if from solar radiation
pressure on a thin sheet.
It might be an artificial
light sail designed for
interstellar travel.

AR A piece of interstellar
plastic waste, perhaps?


2018 Remembrance Sunday

A Hundred Years

Financial Times

The battles of 1914−18 were only the first phase of a European civil war that peaked in 1939−45. The long war was a struggle for mastery between Germany and Russia. German aggression sucked France and Britain into two wars. In 1914, Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg said his aim was to lay the foundations for German predominance in Europe.

Germany after 1945 evolved into a model democracy embedded in the EU. But now Russian aggression, African migration, British separatism, and east European assaults on the rule of law are testing the EU. The Armistice anniversary is a time to reflect that we need German leadership, US engagement, and efforts to ease tensions.

AR British imperialists sought to tame German hegemonism but only succeeded in making way for Soviet expansionism. American militarists faced down Soviet communism and left Europe open to Russian opportunism. Now British separatists threaten to weaken the EU just when Europeans need to reinforce their idealism.

Brexit Doom

The Sunday Times

Theresa May's mission to deliver Brexit looks as doomed as the Apollo 13 mission. Negotiations are continuing in Brussels through the weekend in hopes of salvation by the end of the month.

The outlines of a deal reveal a new Irish border backstop with three options:
 An EU-UK economic partnership with no hard border in Ireland
 An extension of the transition phase beyond December 2020
 A temporary customs arrangement between the UK and the EU

Several member states insist on conditions:
 The UK accepts EU rules on state aid, environmental and labour standards
 Their states have access to UK fishing waters after the transition

EU negotiators have rejected an independent arbitration mechanism to limit the backstop. Brexit secretary Dominic Raab is said to be on the brink of resigning. Other ministers are ready to resign.

A leading Brexiteer: "I think May's denouement might be beginning. If she thinks she is going to land this deal successfully and get it through the EU, her cabinet and parliament, then she is living on a different planet."

AR An EU siege of the UK recalls the old U-boat blockades.

2018 November 10

Brexit Anger

Jeremy Corbyn

Give people hope. People need the perspective that they will be able to achieve something in their lives. There has to be a realignment of wealth within our society.

We offer an inclusive radical alternative to what this government is doing. We can recognize the reasons why people voted Leave. A lot of people have been angered by how their communities have been left behind.

We want to make a new and comprehensive customs union with the EU, one that protects the Irish border and ensures that our supply chains work in both directions.

Brexit Chaos

Keir Starmer

This government is incapable of negotiating the right Brexit deal for this country. At every stage of the Brexit process, the prime minister has shunned constructive engagement over her Brexit strategy. She has been negotiating the deal she thinks she can get past her divided cabinet and party.

Supporting a bad deal is not in the national interest and there is no mandate for a no deal Brexit. No government has the right to plunge the country into chaos because of its own failure. The national interest must come first.

AR Enter Jo ..

Jo Jo

Financial Times

Jo Johnson laments that Brexit has divided families. His brother Boris was the leading figure in the Leave campaign. Jo was a passionate Remainer. Their sister Rachel is for holding a people's vote.

A former Downing Street aide: "Jo and Boris have polar opposite views and yet they have reached the same conclusion about where we are heading. It shows the spectrum of disquiet."

Both brothers are old boys of Eton and Oxford, were in the Bullingdon Club, and worked as journalists. Jo also studied in Paris and in Brussels before working at Deutsche Bank and then at the Financial Times before moving into politics. He is married to Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman.

Jo became a minister in the Cabinet Office in 2014. From 2015 he was universities minister, then from January 2018 a transport minister. He despairs at Theresa May's handling of Brexit.

Boris: "Boundless admiration as ever for my brother Jo."

Rachel: "Jo is brave and on the right side of history."

What Would Winston Do?

2018 November 9

I Quit

Jo Johnson

Brexit has divided the country. The choice being presented to the British people is between an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business, and a "no deal" Brexit that I know as a transport minister will inflict untold damage on our nation.

My brother Boris is as unhappy with the government's proposals as I am. Indeed he recently observed that the proposed arrangements were substantially worse than staying in the EU. On that he is unquestionably right.

The democratic thing to do is to give the public the final say. This would ask people whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all, or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the EU.

Britain stands on the brink of the greatest crisis since the Second World War. My duty to my constituents and our great nation has forced me to act. I have today written to the prime minister asking her to accept my resignation from the government.

On this most crucial of questions, I believe it is entirely right to go back to the people and ask them to confirm their decision to leave the EU and, if they choose to do that, to give them the final say on whether we leave with the prime minister's deal or without it.

To do anything less will do grave damage to our democracy.

AR Bravo, Jo!

No Deal Plan

The Times

UK prime minister Theresa May is accused of breaking her promise to the DUP that she would never allow Northern Ireland to be divided from the rest of the UK.

May wrote to DUP leader Arlene Foster to say the EU is still pushing for its "backstop to the backstop" plan that would leave Northern Ireland tied to the single market and customs union if Brexit talks collapse. May says she would never allow a divide between Ulster and Great Britain to come into force. The DUP interprets this wording to mean the "backstop to the backstop" clause will be inserted into the legally binding agreement.

Foster: "The prime minister's letter raises alarm bells for those who value the integrity of our precious Union and for those who want a proper Brexit for the whole of the UK."

AR Foster now says she cannot support the present deal.

Anglo-Saxistentalist Crisis

Damon Albarn

Brexit is wrong. We live on this stroppy little island, and we need to talk to each other.
But have we not just spent the last couple of years going round in circles?
The referendum question wasn't right in the first place. It should have been:
"Who are we, and who do we want to become?"
There are no easy answers.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen: Merrie Land (4:48)

2018 November 8

Sessions Out, Mueller Next?

Fred Wertheimer, Norman Eisen

Special counsel (SC) Robert Mueller faces his most serious threat yet in the forced resignation of attorney general (AG) Jeff Sessions. The AG had recused himself from the Russia investigation and let his deputy oversee it.

President Trump has named Matthew Whitaker as acting AG and shifted the oversight role to him. But Whitaker has evidently prejudged aspects of the investigation and mused about how it can be hampered. No prosecutor should work on a matter under these circumstances.

To protect the investigation before President Trump makes any further efforts to control the SC office, we propose a solution based upon that devised by Robert Bork when he was the acting AG during Watergate:
 The AG will not remove the SC except for extraordinary improprieties, will not countermand or interfere with SC decisions or actions, and will not limit the jurisdiction of the SC without first consulting with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate.
 The SC investigation shall continue until the SC determines that it has been completed. The SC may make public such statements or reports as he deems appropriate and shall submit a final report and may make it public.

Members of both chambers should demand a commitment from any new person overseeing the Mueller investigation to protect it.

France−UK Military Alliance

The Guardian

A report from a task force led by Bernard Cazeneuve, French prime minister from 2016 to 2017, and George Robertson, UK defence secretary from 1997 to 1999 and NATO secretary general from 1999 to 2004, makes an urgent call for France and the UK to work more closely together on defence.

Lord Robertson: "[Trump] has been lukewarm on NATO and has taken a pretty hostile view about the role of some European countries and their seriousness about defence. [NATO] is under pressure due to Brexit and it is has never been more valuable given what America is doing at the moment. It needs to be strengthened, improved and reinforced."

The report calls on the EU to keep the security relationship with the UK alive and urges the UK to soften its red lines on ECJ jurisdiction to allow its security forces access to key databases.

Robertson: "Britain and France are close neighbours [and] account for more than half of European defence spending and probably over 60% of defence capability. We are both in the UN security council, we are both nuclear powers and we have both got the expeditionary capabilities. Any EU operation will need UK forces. [This] is the dilemma we are highlighting."

2018 November 7

Democrats Win House

The New York Times

With the House of Representatives in Democrat control, Congress can do more for Americans than cutting taxes for the wealthy and menacing health care. Democrats adopted a trio of policy goals: lowering health care costs, creating jobs by investing in infrastructure, and cleaning up politics. These are popular causes.

Democrats have the chance to press President Trump about whether he is interested in making progress on his stated goals or is a hypocrite intent on waging partisan trench warfare. Huge majorities of Americans support letting the Dreamers stay. Finding a compromise path with Trump would be good policy and good politics.

Democrats will be contending with a Republican Senate leader who takes pride in obstructionism. If they can find issues that will put Republican lawmakers on the opposite side from the president, all the better. Wait and see what Robert Mueller turns up.

Die Flucht der Briten

Jochen Buchsteiner

Die Briten, heißt es auf dem Kontinent, befinden sich auf einem Irrweg.

Brexit fußt auf nachvollziehbaren und redlichen Motiven: Die Briten blicken leidenschaftlicher auf die Freiheit und kühler auf Europa. Der Brexit folgt berechtigter Kritik am Zustand der EU und wehrt sich gegen Fehlentwicklungen des liberalen Modells. Indem die Briten ihre Souveränität und Identität über den Wohlstand stellen, kehren sie die Prioritäten einer europäischen Einigungslogik um, die in der Krise steckt.

Niemand kann wissen, wohin der Aufbruch der Briten führt.

AR Die Betonung auf britischer Nationalität ist problematisch. Regionaler Solidarität und Gleichschaltung sind wichtiger

2018 November 6

Brexit Plot

Chuka Umunna

The European Research Group (ERG) is a Brexiteer group chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg. Members on Theresa May: "We'll keep her in place for now. She's our puppet. We're pulling the strings."

The UK government will waste time on Brexit for decades to come. It will have no time for big challenges like the unfair economy, the dysfunctional housing market, and climate change.

AR Brexit is a bust for the notion that Brits are better off ruled by a bunch of unrestrained MPs in Westminster than by those same MPs restrained by the best and brightest of all Europe.

Brexit Poll

Daily Mail

A new Brexit poll finds 54% for Remain, 46% for Leave.

The survey of 20,000 UK voters, the largest since the 2016 referendum, finds the number of local authority areas backing Brexit has fallen from 262 in the referendum to 157 today. The number backing Remain has risen from 116 to 221. Big falls in support for Brexit were recorded in a string of seats in Labour heartlands.

Asked whether they would back yet another vote,
 43% said they'd support a referendum on a final Brexit deal versus remaining in the EU
 37% said they'd oppose it

Asked how they would vote on the prospect of a no-deal Brexit,
 35% said they'd vote to remain in the EU
 19% said they'd vote to delay leaving to allow more time for talks
 36% said they'd vote to leave the EU

Asked how they would vote if the government secured its proposed deal,
 33% said they'd reject it
 26% said they'd accept it
 34% didn't know
 7% didn't reply

AR Brexit can now be branded as a con trick to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

Brexit Pain

Rafael Behr

Theresa May looks increasingly likely to complete a deal that pleases no one and is approved by parliament anyway.

Calling off Brexit requires another referendum. Some say the social impact of a referendum is costlier than the economic hit of an orderly Brexit. Another referendum can look as if stupid racists got the question wrong and must resit the exam until they get it right.

A backlash is not averted by going through with Brexit. Hardline Brexiteers will not lay down arms once the UK is out of the EU. If reasonable men surrender the trench of EU membership, where do they retreat to fight again?

AR No surrender — kill Brexit.


Rosenmontag 2018: Theresa May gebiert einen Brexit

"Barbed wire .. can be
a beautiful sight"
Donald Trump

AR Lock
him up.

At work, Friday

Photopress Belfast
Scene a few days ago
outside a UK mosque

J Lo
Jennifer Lopez


2018 November 5

Germany After Merkel

Wolfgang Münchau

The debate about who should succeed Angela Merkel as CDU chairman is shaping up. The CDU is due to select her successor in December. There are three serious candidates:
 Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU general secretary, is close to Merkel. She supported Merkel's
     immigration policies and ran her election campaign last year.
 Jens Spahn, health minister and critic of Merkel, is the antidote to Merkel's liberalism. As finance
     secretary he was a hardline opponent of EZ reforms.
 Friedrich Merz is a blast from the past. A former parliamentary leader of the CDU-CSU from 2000
     to 2002, he was ejected after a power struggle with Merkel.
Merz is socially conservative and economically libertarian. He supports EZ reform and an EU army. He also advocates a constructive relationship with the UK after Brexit.

AR Merz seems OK to me.

Brexit Tunnel

The Guardian

EU officials say the chances of a deal on the Irish border are 50-50 as talks enter a dark phase known as the "tunnel" this week. The UK government aims to make "decisive progress" by Friday in hopes of an extraordinary Brexit summit in late November.

2018 November 4

Revealed: Secret Brexit Deal

Tim Shipman

Theresa May's secret plan to secure a Brexit deal and win the backing of parliament:
 The EU will write the customs deal into the withdrawal agreement to avoid a backstop
 An exit clause will reassure Brexiteers the UK will not be in the EU for ever
 A future economic partnership (FEP) will aim to balance market access and border checks

May will:
 Tell Brexiteer ministers to support it or be personally responsible for a No Deal Brexit
 Tell Remainers she fought for the closest possible alignment until the last minute
 Quietly ditch her Chequers blueprint and "pivot" toward a different "landing zone"

No 10 spokesman: "This is all speculation."

AR Shipman is a canny source on UK politics.


Tony Blair

We are approaching Brexit crunch time. The government offers a choice between taking the deal but losing control or breaking free and taking the pain. MPs should vote down the deal and give the people the final say.

AR The best FEP is to remain in the EU.

2018 November 3

Angela Merkel: Savior or Destroyer?

Jon Henley

Angela Merkel's approach to a problem is to sit it out. Rather than follow a historic mission or strategic vision, she aims to solve problems in a way that ensures she stays in power.

The German chancellor did so for 13 years. She has been measured, cautious, methodical, pragmatic, noncommittal, and in control. But this week she conceded defeat.

A battle is under way over her legacy. For her defenders, the chancellor is a fundamentally decent politician who fought for democratic values. Her critics say that on major policy questions she is indecisive and panders to public opinion.

Constanze Stelzenmüller: "Politicians have to be effective and credible, and Merkel has been both. She built relationships of trust .. She gains people's trust because she has clear values .. It's exactly what you want running a major power in the centre of Europe."

Germans have sound historical reasons for disliking excessive political passion. Policies were never the point of Merkel. Many Germans see her as a reliable and analytical civil servant, not as a politician who has staked out a vision for the country.

Merkel is Machiavellian. Her hard line on enforcing austerity was popular among conservatives but boosted populist movements in southern Europe, while her 2015 open borders policy was popular among liberals but boosted the AfD. She did little for European integration or the euro.

Alice Weidel: Destroyer or Savior?

The Times

The leader of Germany's far-right AfD party has pulled out of a talk at the Oxford Union next week. The decision to invite Alice Weidel, 39, prompted almost 30 societies from the University of Oxford to sign a letter calling for the invitation to be revoked.

AfD is the largest opposition party in the German parliament and holds regular rallies where immigrants and Muslims are targeted for criticism. The Oxford Union described Dr Weidel as "outspoken" on issues such as the refugee crisis and traditional social values.

The Oxford Labour Muslim Network said offering a platform for "hate speech" must "not be conflated with freedom of speech" and suggested the Oxford Union was on the wrong side of history.

Oxford Union president Stephen Horvath: "Alice Weidel has cancelled her trip to the UK due to concerns with the security arrangements for aspects of her travels and engagements."

AR Let the Oxford snowflakes hear what she has to say.

2018 November 2

Did Russia Bankroll Brexit?

The Guardian

The UK National Crime Agency is to investigate allegations of multiple criminal offences by Arron Banks and his unofficial leave campaign in the Brexit referendum. Banks is an insurance millionaire who chaired the Leave.EU campaign and was formerly a major bankroller of UKIP.

The NCA will look into suspicions that Banks was not the true source of £8 million in funding to the Leave.EU campaign and that criminal offences may have been committed. Some MPs are calling for the Brexit process to be put on hold while the allegations are investigated.

Banks: "I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations."

AR Guardian sources report Banks profited from absurdly lucrative dealings with Russia.

Trust the Guardian

The Guardian

The most trusted UK newspaper brand is the Guardian, finds a Pew study. It is particularly trusted among readers aged 18 to 29. The study included four British newspapers and covered more than 16,000 adults across eight western European countries.

Artificial Neural Network Architecture

University of Manchester

Our Spiking Neural Network Architecture (SpiNNaker) machine is inspired by the working of the human brain. A SpiNNaker machine is a massively parallel computing platform containing a million processors and running at 200 Tflops, targeted towards three main areas of research:

Neuroscience: SpiNNaker is a platform that will help neuroscientists to understand how the brain works. It will be capable of simulating a billion simple neurons, or millions of neurons with complex structure and internal dynamics.

Robotics: SpiNNaker is a good target for researchers in robotics. A small SpiNNaker board can simulate a network of tens of thousands of spiking neurons, process sensory input and generate motor output, all in real time and in a low power system.

Computer Science: SpiNNaker breaks the rules followed by traditional supercomputers. SpiNNaker nodes communicate using spikes that are inherently unreliable. This offers the potential to discover new principles of massively parallel computation.

Steve Furber: "Neuroscientists can now use SpiNNaker to help unlock some of the secrets of how the human brain works by running unprecedentedly large-scale simulations. It also works as real-time neural simulator that allows roboticists to design large-scale neural networks into mobile robots."

2018 All Saints Day

Math: Evidence vs Proof

Kevin Hartnett

A new computational model suggests the rank of one type of algebraic equation is bounded. Equations with higher ranks have larger and more complicated sets of rational solutions.

Given an equation, you can graph its solutions as a curve. The number of rational solutions you need to find all the rest is the rank of the curve. A curve for which you need to know two points to find the rest has rank 2.

A circle has a quadratic equation of degree 2. Elliptic curves have degree 3 and come in various ranks, with no proven upper limit. The current record is held by an elliptic curve with rank 28, discovered in 2006 by Noam Elkies.

The new model builds on previous models and makes various predictions that almost exactly match proven results. It says there are only finitely many elliptic curves with rank greater than 21, so rank is bounded.

Our Local Black Hole

Joshua Sokol

Glowing gas swirls into the Milky Way's central black hole, marking it with a point of IR light we call Sagittarius A*. Occasionally, that point flares up briefly and subsides. A team has measured its brightness and position and found it traces out a tiny circle.

Hot spots made of plasma seem to be orbiting the black hole at about 100 Mm/s. Their orbit is just outside the innermost stable circular orbit (ISCO) near the event horizon. The mass and spin of the back hole define the ISCO and the hot spot orbit.

Four ESO telescopes work together in a project called GRAVITY. On July 22, when Sagittarius A* flared, GRAVITY combined the IR light to produce sharp position and polarization measurements. The data lets us measure the black hole's spin.

In parallel to this, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is imaging the warped spacetime inside the ISCO. Soon we could build up a movie of the orbiting hot spot.

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